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Wildfires rage in the West but fighting them faces this major challenge

This year’s intense wave of wildfires has caused firefighting agencies to rethink their approach. Here’s why

The Telegraph Fire burns in Globe, Ariz.
The Telegraph Fire burns Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Globe, Ariz.
Associated Press

The Western region of the U.S. currently faces a record-breaking “megadrought” and potentially record-breaking heatwave. With breezy afternoons, the area faces extremely dangerous fire conditions, reported The Weather Channel.

  • Over 20 large wildfires are burning in seven states, reported CNN.
  • The current heatwave reaches from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Canadian border, reported Axios.

The intensity of this year’s wildfires has pushed firefighting agencies to begin rethinking their approach to managing wildfires, reported The Washington Post.

How bad is this year’s wildfire season?

In 2021, officials have recorded over 26,800 fire incidents that have burned over 833,000 acres of land across the U.S., reported CNN. Comparatively, in 2020 over the same period, officials recorded just over 20,700 fire incidents and around 658,000 acres burned.

  • Compared to the same period last year, Arizona — where the record-breaking Telegraph fire continues to burn — has recorded 50 fewer fires but has seen about 70,000 more acres burned, said CNN.
  • Wildfires are also burning across California, Utah and New Mexico, per Axios.

The current megadrought and heatwave reinforce each other, contributing to critical or near-critical fire conditions, reported Axios.

What major challenge makes fighting wildfires difficult?

Currently, federal firefighting agencies employ wildland firefighters as seasonal workers during summer months, reported The Washington Post. During the winter months, agencies shift their focus from fire suppression to fire prevention.

  • However, wildfires are no longer contained to traditional fire seasons, reported The Associated Press. Instead, wildfires continued to blaze year-round in 2020.

States like California have begun to push for federal agencies to employ firefighters permanently. Due to the discrepancy of heightened demand for firefighters and limited workforce, states face a serious challenge in becoming adequately prepared for the peak period of wildfires, reported CNBC.