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As of Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 8 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires in 2015. 8,202,557 of them, to be precise. That’s an area larger than the state of Maryland.
And the numbers are still growing: 65 large fires are currently raging across the country, particularly in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. That includes three Washington state fires or fire complexes that are larger than 100,000 acres burned.
As of this writing, the United States remains at wildfire preparedness level 5 — the highest level — where it has been since Aug. 13.
There are only six other years that have seen more than 8 million acres burned — 2012, 2011, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004 — based on National Interagency Fire Center records that date back to 1960. It is hard not to notice that all of these years came since the year 2000.
2015 has already surpassed 2004’s total of 8,097,880 acres burned. The worst year of them all, 2006, saw 9,873,745 acres consumed.
But here’s the thing — as of September 1, 2015 was ahead of the pace of 2006 and all other years. While 2015 has seen 8,202,557 acres burned thus far, 2006 had only seen 7,663,928 acres burned as of that date.
It’s important to acknowledge the key reason that 2015 is out ahead right now: A blockbuster wildfire year in the state with the biggest capacity to contribute acres to the total — Alaska. Over 5 million acres burned there earlier this year. But as Alaska slows down its burning, other states are coming on strong — especially Washington state, where 921,249 acres have burned in 16 currently burning fires or fore complexes — to say nothing of those that have been contained or put out. So Alaska’s contribution starts to look a little less lopsided.
So is it sensible to raise the possibility of a new record by the end of the year? I called Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, who agreed with me that it’s a possibility.
“While nobody around here really likes to make bets with where we’ll end up with fire season, there’s certainly the potential to hit that record mark,” Jones said.
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