As firefighters in 12 states are struggling to contain wildfires, 14 new large fires have been reported by the National Interagency Fire Center. There are 53 active large fires nationwide, 14 in Texas alone. More than 4.5 million acres have been burned nationwide to date, compared to 1.3 million for the same period in 2010, according to the center.
Arizona has been hit the hardest with two new large fires bringing the total to six active fires and more than 774,000 acres burned. Arizona’s largest wildfire in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is 56 percent contained, having burned more than 500,000 acres.
Potential for significant fire activity is present in southwest Arizona, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Geographic Area Coordination Center. The weather is getting hotter and drier with critical high winds and low humidity forecast for northwest Arizona.
“Wildfire season is upon us, as is evident by the massive fire activity in Arizona and New Mexico. I traveled there this past weekend and met with many of our firefighters who are working tirelessly to contain those fires. We are fully committed to that effort and are also prepared for the entire 2011 wildland fire season,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in a testimony to the Senate committee on wildfire preparedness.
Nationwide, the total number of fires is lower than the 10-year average, while the total number of acres burned is three times the 10-year average, according to Tidwell.
Two firefighters in Florida lost their lives fighting to contain a reignited wildfire. Josh Burch, 31, and Brett Fulton, 52 were fighting the Blue Ribbon fire in Hamilton County, Fla. Two other Division of Forestry firefighters were injured while attempting to rescue the forest rangers.
“The wildfires have ravaged our state, burning more than 200,000 acres, and now, they have taken the lives of two of our very own men,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of Josh Burch and Brett Fulton; two courageous heroes who sacrificed their lives for the safety of others.”
The fire had been declared contained but reignited on June 20 due to extreme fire weather.
Florida’s Division of Forestry has battled over 1,500 wildfires since May 1 and reports over 200,000 acres lost. In what is one of the busiest wildfire years in history, Florida firefighters are facing an average of 31 new fires daily.
Texas alone is reporting 17 uncontained wildfires. A total of two homes and six cabins have been burned and dozens evacuated in a 20,000-acre wildfire in Polk and Trinity counties. Extreme fire behavior has been observed in the 35,000-acre wildfire in Brooks County.