What is the current situation?
Fire statistics show at a glance the present crisis in Western forests. Through most of the 20th century, wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico burned between a few thousand to 60,000 acres annually. That figure skyrocketed to over 180,000 acres in 1997 and nearly a million acres in 2002. The 2003 wildland fire outlook for the Southwest is normal to above normal.
Costs related to fighting wildfires, protecting properties in the wildland-urban interface (W.U.I.), and remediation of burned areas have risen to unprecedented levels. Arizona’s Rodeo-Chedeski fire of 2002 cost nearly $22 million to fight and caused $329 million in damages. Fire managers are concerned that continued drought conditions and tree mortality from bark beetle infestations will result in even greater costs in upcoming fire seasons.
Official reports filed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal and state lands agencies provide information on costs associated with wildfires, preventative treatments, fire-fighting strategies, and remediation plans.
Fire maps are accessible on-line for up-to-date information on past fires and current hot-spots. Geographic Information Systems (G.I.S.) mapping is a powerful descriptive tool used in all phases of forest management, allowing visual interpretation of of data on forest composition, topography, fire history, and other powerful predictors of future fire dangers.
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