BOISE -- With thousands of Idahoans affected by wildfires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres, you might be thinking to yourself, 'these fire seasons seem to be getting worse.' Well, you're right.
Just to be clear, we're talking about 10-year averages. Some seasons are good. Some seasons are bad. But researchers say the good seasons are becoming average, and the bad seasons are getting very bad.
Dick Bahr is the with the National Park Service, as its program lead for fire science and ecology. He says 15 years ago fire managers had an off-season, but not anymore. "Fire seasons are getting longer."
Resources are being drained with seasons growing longer across the nation, especially here in the West. "Typically, our fire seasons right now are starting 3 to 4 weeks earlier, and running 3 to 4 weeks longer," said Bahr.
According to Bahr, the forests and the grasslands are changing, everything from the weather to the plants and trees that are burning. "The biggest thing is the invasive species and noxious weeds that have taken over a lot of the countryside that are much more fire adaptive than native species were."
That shortens fire cycles.
Along with warmer temperatures and drier fuels, Bahr says another big change has to do with where people are living. In the last 12 years, about 16 million homes have been built in what used to be wilderness. "We don't have those broad landscapes where fires could burn before without impacting humans."
It's just one more challenge for wildland firefighters out West.
"Whether it be fuels, money, or response to fires, we have some challenges ahead of us," said Bahr.
So, what do fire managers do to meet these challenges? Earlier in the week, senators from Idaho and Oregon said they believe firefighters are doing all they can. They believe it's up to state and federal land managers to reduce the risk of fires by thinning the forest. In fact, there are projects already underway in northern and central Idaho. They're aimed at improving forest health with logging, and helping wildlife habitat.