It seemed to me that over the last few weeks the wildfire activity has been slower than typical for this time of the year, so I did a little digging. Using historical data from the National Interagency Fire Center and acres burned to date from the August 13 national Situation Report, it turns out that Alaska has burned nearly three times their 10-year to-date average while the other 49 states combined are running 12 percent below the to-date average.
Over the last 10 years Alaska’s average acres burned in a full year is 1.1 million. This year they are at 3.1 million, more than the other 49 states combined. There has been a major increase in Alaska acres burned after mid-August in only 2 of the last 18 years. And it has been fairly quiet there, fire wise, for the last four weeks.
So far this year, fires in the other 49 states have blackened about 2.8 million acres, 12 percent below the to-date 10-year average of 3.2 million. The 49 states typically burn 6.2 million in a full year, so if this year turns out like the average of the last 10, we’re about half done.
The Situation Report does not break out data for Alaska and the other 49 states, so just looking at their 50-state numbers a person would see that the 5.9 million acres burned to date is 27 percent higher than the average of 4.3 million, when actually the +27 percent figure is very wrong for both Alaska and the lower 49 states.
We usually separate Alaska stats because fires in that huge state are managed far differently from the other 49. Most of them are not fully suppressed since they are less likely to endanger people or private property than in the lower 49 states. The second reason is that the fire occurrence is extremely variable, with the acres burned since 1990 ranging, for example, from 43,965 acres in 1995 to 6,645,978 in 2004. Including the Alaska numbers in the total would skew the data for the other 49 states making it more difficult to spot trends.