Fire Risk Remains Elevated Across West, Plains

October 02, 2012; 5:05 AM
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Fire risk will also be elevated today across a portion of southern California near Los Angeles.

The combination of dry air and gusty winds will enhance the risk for fires across a large part of the West and northern Plains today.

Coming off a record fire season, this is the last thing that exhausted firefighters want to hear.

Parts of more than a dozen states will experience near-optimal conditions for fire ignition and growth; that is, relative humidity levels less than 20 percent and wind gusts over 20 mph.

Recent and long-term dry weather has already set the groundwork, with plenty of dried vegetation and leaves present for any fires to feed off of.

A cold front plowing south from Canada into the northern Rockies and High Plains is perhaps most at fault for the risk today. The front will enhance winds both ahead of it out of the southwest, and behind it from the northwest.

Eventually, moisture will follow the frontal passage into parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, but it will be delayed for up to a day. This cold air and enhanced moisture combination will result in the season's first snow across much of the nation's northern tier.

That moisture will never make it to California, where the fire risk will also stay high, thanks to days of near-record heat.

The Grapevine, as well as the forests and mountains around Los Angeles, will be at an especially high risk for wildfires.

The same can be said for the Cascades, valleys and basins of Washington, the so-called "smokestack" of Idaho, the Wasatch mountains in Utah, as well as a significant portion of central and eastern Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas and even as far east as northern Minnesota.

This map, courtesy the USDA Forest Service, shows current large fire incidents across the northwestern U.S. as of Oct. 1.

Though fire safety is something that should never go out of season, extra caution should be practiced today.

If you are camping, take extra precautions to prevent the spread of any campfires (better yet, don't start any). Never abandon a campsite until any fires are totally and completely extinguished.

Motorists should never toss cigarette butts out of their vehicles, especially in conditions such as this.

Even something as benign as target shooting can spark fires.

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