Southwest Monsoon: Good and Bad for Fire Fighters

By Michael Doll, Meteorologist
July 25, 2013; 6:33 PM ET
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Despite the active Southwest monsoon this month, severe to extreme drought conditions continue across much of the West and several large wildfires continue to burn thousands of acres.

The Mountain Fire southwest of Palm Springs, Calif., was 92 percent contained as of Monday morning. Rain moved over the fire location earlier this week and helped keep the fire perimeter stable. Even with no additional rain in the forecast over the next two days, light winds will prevent the fire from spreading farther.

Weather conditions near Warm Springs, Ore., where the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire has scorched more than 45,000 acres, will remain hot with low humidity through Friday. As of Wednesday evening that blaze was 40 percent contained, but those types of conditions will make further containment more difficult.

With monsoonal thunderstorms expected in portions of the West into the weekend, lightning could spark new fires.

While rainfall can help fire fighting crews contain ongoing fires, rain that falls over burn areas can create dangerous mudslides and debris flows.

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Rain fell over the Silver Fire burn area northwest of Las Cruces, N.M., Wednesday night and prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Flash Flood Warning. More showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast for that area over the next several days and there is the potential for flash flooding.

Another challenge for fire fighting crews comes from gusty thunderstorm winds. Not only can the winds cause a fire to spread quickly but in a different direction.

Fire crews obviously have to pay close attention to the forecast and changing weather conditions. They receive current and forecast weather information from private and government sources. This will usually include detailed verbal briefings several times a day from meteorologists.

Story By AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mike Doll. Thumbnail for this story from Photos.com

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