FILE - In this April 21, 2021, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Calif., where he announced he would proclaim a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Scientists say the outlook for the western U.S. fire season is grim because it's starting far drier than 2020's record-breaking fire year. In late March, less than one-third of California was suffering extreme or exceptional drought. Now it's more than 73%, according to the National Drought Monitor, which is based on precipitation, temperature, soil moisture and streamflow measurements. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Grim Western Fire Season Starts Much Drier than Record 2020

May 24, 2021 at 8:00am

Seth Borenstein

As bad as last year’s record-shattering fire season was, the western U.S. starts this year’s in even worse shape.

The soil in the West is record dry for this time of year. In much of the region, plants that fuel fires are also the driest scientists have seen. The vegetation is primed to ignite, especially in the Southwest where dead juniper trees are full of flammable needles.

“It’s like having gasoline out there,” said Brian Steinhardt, forest fire zone manager for Prescott and Coconino national forests in Arizona.

A climate change-fueled megadrought of more than 20 years is making conditions that lead to fire even more dangerous, scientists said. Rainfall in the Rockies and farther west was the second lowest on record in April, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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