Snow helps wrap up below-average wildfire season in US West

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – With measurable snowfall already dusting parts of the Rocky Mountains and Northwest, the 2016 wildfire season has wrapped up in much of the West, despite some flames still flaring in Southern California and Colorado.

The region saw a below-average fire season overall, with about 7,500 square miles burned so far this year, said Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Blazes usually scorch about 10,000 square miles each year across the West, according to the 10-year average.

“Just to compare, last year we burned over 10 million acres (15,625 square miles), and this year we didn’t even reach 5 million (7,812 square miles) nationally,” she said. “So we burned twice as many acres last year as we did this year.”

Wet fall weather has tamped down on the blazes, Gardetto said. The Northwest and Northern Rockies have seen a series of storms packing rain and snow, helping end the wildfire season.

Snow fell this week in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Northern California. It covered Old Faithful on Monday in Yellowstone National Park, where large wildfires were active this summer. And about a foot of snow fell in western Wyoming at elevations as low as 7,000 feet.

However, snow totals are hard to come by because most of it has fallen in less populated mountain areas, according to Monica Traphagan, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Salt Lake City.

“Certainly at those higher elevations where it is cold enough for snow, I’m sure there’s some pretty good accumulations,” Traphagan said. “It’s a different story when you get down to Nevada, Arizona and so forth.”

Wildfires are still a concern in the Southwest, where warm, dry conditions are persisting, Gardetto said.

The Santa Ana winds typical of fall in Southern California are expected to bring a heat wave and high fire danger through the end of the week. The forecast calls for temperatures in the hottest areas to soar into the 90s and up to around 100 degrees Wednesday through Friday.

Otherwise, Gardetto said fire officials at the centre will soon start looking ahead to next year’s fire season.