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Fire season expected to accelerate

AP
In this July 22, 2014 photo, a wildfire burns in Morgan County, Utah. Fire investigators believe lightning ignited the Tunnel Hollow Fire. Slightly cooler weather on Tuesday helped crews gain ground on the fire five miles east of the town of Morgan, Utah. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Benjamin Zack) TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
 

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Despite widespread drought in the West and expectations of an above-average wildfire season, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average area so far this summer.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said on Wednesday that largely has been a matter of luck, with the hot, windy weather known as “red flag” days not lining up with the lighting strikes that start most fires, particularly in California.

But that is changing, he said from Washington. Eighteen large fires were burning in the Northwest with intensities not normally endured until August.

With about $1 billion budgeted for fighting wildfires, the Forest Service expects to once again have to utilize other funds, such as forest-thinning projects, to continue fighting fires as the season goes on into the fall, Tidwell said. Last year, that amount was $500 million.

The largest wildfires — 1 percent of blazes across the country each season — take up 30 percent of wildfire spending. The Obama administration has proposed changing the way those fires are paid for, tapping Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds rather than taking from other programs within agency budgets, said Jim Douglas, director of the Department of Interior Office of Wildland Fire.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and others have filed legislation to do the same thing.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report warning climate change is contributing to longer and larger fire seasons, and efforts to protect new homes in forests are driving up firefighting costs.

Overall, wildfires have burned 2,471 square miles across the nation this summer, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The 10-year average for this date is 6,016 square miles.

Arizona, California, Idaho and Nevada each had one large fire burning, and Utah had four, the Idaho fire center reported.

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