Catastrophic Wildfire Season Predicted

By Tom Bacon

Summer's a time of fun for youngsters, but for their elders, it's also a time of fires - wildfires.  And this year's fire season, which has already started early in Calfornia and New Mexico, could be especially perilous and costly.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has issued a brand new forecast for the summer months. In June, forecasters predict below average wild land fire potential for most of Oregon, Idaho and Washington. But that changes dramatically in July. The forecast is for significant wildfire potential over most of Oregon, southern Washington and western Idaho - the trend continuing for the inland northwest into August and September.

Publication of the fire forecast coincided with a U.S. Senate committee hearing Tuesday chaired by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. He fears another catastrophic summer of wildfires after costly outbreaks last year in which 15 firefighters were killed and two air tankers crashed in blazes that ate up 9 million acres and hundreds of homes.

At a time when sequestration and congressional funding fights are cutting federal spending, Wyden called for more money to carry out fire prevention measures on federal forest lands. He also wants to modernize the air tanker fleet. Wyden noted that most of the air tankers still flying should be in museums, not on the fire front. And he called on Obama administration money managers to recognize the need for heftier shares of the Forest Service budget to be channeled into fire prevention and suppression efforts.
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