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NOAA satellite image of fires in Colorado and New Mexico taken June 11, 2002 at 9:58 p.m. EDT.June 13, 2002 — At least 19 major wildfires are crisscrossing the nation, impacting states from Alaska and Hawaii, to Florida. More than a half million acres are ablaze, and NOAA forecasters expect a long wildfire season ahead. (Click NOAA satellite image of Colorado and New Mexico fires produced from data taken by the NOAA-15 satellite on June 11 at 9:58 p.m EDT. Please credit "NOAA.")

Dry and warm conditions are expected for the West through the weekend with a few dry thunderstorms expected in some parts of New Mexico and Colorado. NOAA meteorologists warned that temperatures may be above normal in the summer months ahead in many fire prone locations. Ongoing drought conditions continue to provide a challenge to firefighters and weather forecasters across the nation.

NOAA's National Weather Service forecasters warned the mercury is expected to climb higher in many fire-prone locations, making the weather a threat to firefighters.

"Land management and public safety officials will watch for any changes in these weather conditions in the coming days. States where the fire danger is at its highest levels include Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah," said David "Rusty" Billingsley, the National Weather Service fire weather program manager from his office in Boise, Idaho.

National Weather Service forecasters at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center predict where dry thunderstorms and fire weather conditions may occur today and tomorrow throughout the contiguous 48 states, helping fire officials plan ahead and focus their resources. Forecasters at local offices in each of the National Weather Service's regions—Western, Central, Southern and Eastern—use the SPC's fire weather outlook for guidance as they predict fire weather in their specific areas of responsibility and issue fire weather watches and red flag warnings.

In addition, NOAA's National Weather Service fulfills one of its critical roles by supporting federal wildfire management agencies when one of the specially trained meteorologists are deployed to a fire to provide on-site weather forecasts.

Billingsley said nine of the National Weather Service's 51 certified Incident Meteorologists, known as IMETs, are deployed to support activities at major wildland fires or working at the geographic centers.

Persistent drought conditions in many locations of the nation have contributed to the early, more intense, fire season this year. "Fire conditions remain very high to extreme in many states," said Billingsley. "Our forecasters are getting more requests for fire weather information because everyone, everywhere is on guard."

Colorado Remains Wildfire Hotbed for Forecasters
"Forecast support for fire management agencies continues to be our top priority for the National Weather Service forecast offices in Colorado," Larry Mooney, meteorologist in charge of the Denver forecast office said. "Our offices here in Denver, Pueblo and Grand Junction are providing site-specific forecasts and briefings to firefighters making initial attacks on new fire starts."

Citing parched conditions left by one of the worst droughts in Colorado history, state officials said the situation has led to the worst wildfire conditions ever seen in the state.

Mooney said, "For the major fires, such as the Hayman Fire and the Coal Seam Fire, the IMETs have been deployed and are providing direct, continuous support to the firefighters. In addition to helping incident commanders decide where to apply suppression efforts, IMET forecasts and up-to-the-minute summaries of current conditions are helping to keep firefighters safe."

NOAA Forecasters Predictions Can Impact Firefighters' Strategies
"IMETs predict the changing weather conditions at, or near, the major wildfires. These forecasts give land managers' critical information and enable them to develop strategies to fight the fires," said Billingsley.

He added that IMETS prepare the weather forecast and work closely with the land management agency's fire behavior analyst. The analyst knows the local topography, local fuel conditions and uses the IMET's forecast to determine how the weather could impact the wildfire situation.

"IMETs prepare their site-specific forecast for the local conditions on location. These forecasts give the land management agencies a critical advantage and enable them to better plan how to battle the blaze," said Billingsley.

Larry VanBussum, a National Weather Service meteorologist to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said, "We've had ongoing indications this could be a bad year for wildfires, based on the lack of precipitation."

He added, "Weather is often seen as both the good and bad guy by those involved in firefighting efforts. Weather changes the behavior of a fire and everyone understands fires also create their own weather patterns. Shifts in winds and changes in weather conditions can help curb the spread of the fire and assist the fire fighters who are trying to control the burning. But, unfortunately, rapidly changing weather conditions can also contribute to increasing the fire's size and destination within a short period of time."

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Fire Weather Information Center

NOAA's Drought Information Center

NOAA's Wildfire Detection

New Fire Product Makes It Easier to Find Fires

Media Contact:
Marilu Trainor, NOAA's National Weather Service western region headquarters, (801) 524-5692 ext. 226