At least 70 homes have been lost as wildfires blaze across Volusia and Brevard counties, in eastern Florida, the Associated Press is reporting.
Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency, and the National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings for all of Florida, and parts of Alabama and Georgia, because weather could encourage fire across the region. Red flag warnings are also in place today over parts of Texas and New Mexico, and parts of Nevada, Arizona and California.
As of Monday, when the latest national tally was made, the five Florida fires are burning more than 12,000 acres, and two remain totally uncontained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Firefighters are also battling blazes in Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.
The wildfire season got off to an early and dramatic start, and has not let up. In recent days, national firefighters have warned that forecasts for low rainfall and warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Western U.S. will make for a brutal fire season.
The wildfires so far this season have been unusually big, when compared to long-term averages. To date, there have been 22% fewer wildfires than the 10-year average, but those fires have burned 70% more acres, according to statistics tallied by the National Interagency Fire Center.
Another key to the intense fire season expectations is the state of the snowpack in Western mountains. Robust just a couple of months ago, California's mountain snowpack has now dwindled to just two-thirds of its normal level, threatening drinking-water supplies and heightening the wildfire risk for later in the season.
Runoff to reservoirs and farm irrigation ponds is expected to drop by 35-45% from normal.
This winter, the snowpack had been so high that the West was optimistic that years of drought conditions might be alleviated.
March and April in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, though, have never been drier in the 87 years of records.
Scientists have predicted that global warming will produce more frequent and intense wildfires, in large part because mountain snowpacks are expected to dwindle. With less runoff, valley conditions will be drier throughout the season, leaving any dry wood more prone to ignition. Add hotter temperatures, which increase evaporation, and more intense storms, which might produce additional lightning, and you have a recipe for wildfire.
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