The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior are gearing up for what they expect to be one of the most intense wildfire years in recent history. In a press call on Thursday (5-13-21), Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said, “May is wildfire awareness month, but these days, it seems as if the fire season is the entire year.” The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, predicts 2021 will be another above-average year for wildfire potential in the West. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters he’s “troubled” that signals suggest the U.S. is “headed into yet another very dangerous fire year.” Jeff Rupert, director of the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, agreed 2021’s fire outlook is bad. Nationwide, 550,000 acres are currently burning, and the Southwest already has five large, active fires in mid-May. Rupert went onto say that according to agency data, more than 90% of the West is experiencing some level of drought. He expects the worst fires across California, where drought is acute, but he also anticipates wildfires will hit the Pacific Northwest in June, July and August. “The drought now is worse than this time last year, and the fire potential across the West is worse.” The Department of the Interior’s land management agencies and USDA are combining resources for a record-sized firefighting team for this time of year, including 15,000 firefighters, more than 500 helicopters, 91 single-engine airtankers, up to 34 airtankers, 360 pieces of heavy equipment and more than 1,600 engines. These resources will supplement state and local forces. Vilsack said USDA and the Interior Department staff have been identifying regions where they think the highest fire risks are and pre-positioning people and supplies at those locations.
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USDA, Interior Department gear up for dangerous wildfire year