Monsoon rains slow wildfires in U.S. West

2013-08-01 04:25:03 GMT2013-08-01 12:25:03(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Thanks to Mother Nature, wildfires in America's West have decreased significantly in 2013 over last year, according to data released Wednesday by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

"It's too early to tell... but the (2.2 million, or 890,340 hectares) acres burned this year are about half of last year's acres at this time," said Robyn Broyles, NIFC spokesperson in the Boise, Idaho command center.

With continuing moisture, 2013 looks to be way below the 2012 total of 9.3 million acres (3.76 million hectares) destroyed, the third worst season in U.S. history, he said.

"The central plains and East got hammered by rain in the past month...and we see this trend continuing," said Broyles.

NIFC data reveals that almost 90 percent of all acres burned nationally in 2013 are from eight western states -- Alaska, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Colorado.

In Colorado, the second record-breaking forest fire season seems to be smoldering, thanks to the monsoon rains. The National Weather Service in Denver reported Wednesday that four times as much rain fell in July 2013 as did the same month last year.

"It was the turning point -- we actually had rain to stop the fire," said West Fork Complex fire spokesman Mike Blakeman. The West Fork blaze torched 109,615 acres before the July rains fell and is the largest fire in Colorado so far this year.

Responding to another notable Colorado blaze, President Barack Obama declared the Royal Gorge fire area a national disaster. This will provide economic relief for tourism losses projected in the millions.

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is a popular national tourist destination and features a 1,260-foot (380-meter) bridge suspended 1,053 feet (321 meters) above a canyon. It is called the highest bridge in the United States.

The fire destroyed 48 of the 52 structures at the historic park that dates back to 1929 and is a major economic driver in the area. Preliminary Royal Gorge losses total 26.9 million dollars.

This year will be remembered for the record number of homes destroyed in Colorado. The June 11 Black Forest fire torched 509 houses and the National Insurance Agency estimated that losses are more than 300 million dollars.

Black Forest, on the southeast edge of Colorado Springs, the second largest city in Colorado, broke the record from 2012 when 347 homes were lost in the Waldo Canyon fire, just west of the city. That fire prompted a visit from President Barack Obama, who declared the scene a national disaster area.

Each year the July monsoon rains bring relief to wildfire fighting efforts, but they are not always foolproof wet blankets in the burning forests.

"We had some squirrelly downdrafts from the thunderhead rain clouds that first showed up (in early July) and at first it really got the West Fork fire cranking," said Blakeman, who noted the fire spread 11,500 acres (4,654 hectares) in one day before the moisture affected the inferno.

The West Fork fire attracted international attention as the smoke plume could be seen easily from the International Space Station 220 miles (354 km) above the Earth.

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