Wildfires destroyed 50 homes in Northern California and injured two firefighters in the most destructive episode so far in what promises to be an intense season for fires across the West.
The National Weather Service predicts wind and heat will make fires likely across parts of the West and Southwest today. Red in this map indicates red flag fire warnings:
There are currently 10 active large wildfires in the U.S., burning more than 58,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Seven of them are in California. Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia are also battling fires.
Already this year, nearly 1.6 million acres have burned, 37% more than the 10-year average to date.
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.
Drought across the nation has set the stage for a bad wildfire season. The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly report, released this morning, shows worsening conditions across the West, Southwest and Southeast.
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.
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