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2022 North American Wildfires

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Typically, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) starts its North American wildfires profile in the summer or even fall. However, as climate change increasingly has a more significant impact, we have been losing the concept of disaster seasons.

Two significant winter fires in Colorado and California, along with dozens of smaller fires, have led to statistics that far exceed what typically happens at this point in the year. As such, our wildfire profile will run by calendar year moving forward.

This direction is supported by experts such as Cecile Juliette, public information officer of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who told ABC News, “We are towards the end of January. 10-15 years ago we use to call it the California fire season where we might get fires say in July that would last through maybe September or October. So, it was just a few months. Now our fires are extending all the way through December and then into January. So it’s not really accurate to call it a fire season. CAL FIRE is trying to get away from calling it a fire season because that doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s really now more of a fire year.”

As 2022 began, fires continued to burn or sprung up in several states. As drought pushes east, more wildfires are popping up in southern and plains states. The new year started with a fire over New Year’s Eve in Colorado and there have also been fires in other states including: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas.

(Photo: Monterey County via Twitter)

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About our coverage

Though we would like to, we are unable to share information on every fire across the continent. Below, you will find some general information about the most significant fires of 2022.

In California, we focus on fires that exceed 50,000 acres. In all other states, we cover fires that significantly affect the surrounding areas and environment, and affect residents, especially at-risk populations.

United States

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group has set the National Preparedness Level to Level 2, which indicates more large wildland fires are burning across the country, requiring resources to be mobilized from different areas.

The National Interagency Fire Center statistics show that as of May 11, 2022, 23,801 fires have already burned a total of 1,273,559 acres. This is above the 10-year average of 17,858 fires and the average acreage of 744,632 acres.

There was one large new fire this week, and 12 large fires remain uncontained. Six uncontained large fires are burning in the Southwest area and six in the Southern area.

Arizona

The Tunnel Fire is located around 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff and began on April 17. As with other parts of the Southwest, persistent windy conditions cause the fire to spread rapidly. As of May 10, the fire had burned 19,088 acres and was 95% contained.

Two small areas reignited over the weekend of May 7-8. Forest patrols on the Coconino National Forest discovered more than a dozen illegal campfires over the weekend. Crews continue with mop-up operations and are working towards 100% containment.

On April 21, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County. The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office reported on April 21 that about 109 properties were impacted by the fire.

Colorado

Colorado did not get enough snow to fully recover from the decades-long megadrought plaguing the American West, which means fuels may be drier than normal. Experts say the state should expect a “new normal.”

Previous major fires in Colorado
On Dec. 30, two wildfires sparked and quickly spread within hours because of high winds. The Middle Fork Fire and the Marshall Fire led to multiple evacuations and the loss of hundreds of homes. Residents of Louisville and Superior – with a combined population of 34,000 – were evacuated as winds reached more than 105 miles per hour.

High winds created challenging conditions for firefighters. The Middle Fork Fire was quickly extinguished, but the Marshall Fire burned for several days, reaching 6,080 acres before being 100% contained. The Marshall Fire burned in primarily suburban residential areas of Boulder County, about 20 miles northwest of Denver. It was the most destructive fire in Colorado history:

On Jan. 6, 2022, Boulder County officials reported that the fire destroyed 1,084 residences and seven commercial structures and damaged 149 homes and 30 commercial buildings. The residential loss is estimated at more than $513 million, but commercial value is still under calculation. The breakdown of the loss and destruction caused by the fires is as follows:

  • In the City of Louisville, 550 homes and four commercial structures were destroyed and 43 homes and 14 commercial buildings were damaged. The residential damage is approximately $229.2 million.
  • In the Town of Superior, 378 homes and three commercial buildings were destroyed. An additional 14 commercial structures and 58 homes were damaged. The estimated residential damage is $152.8 million.
  • Outside of the municipalities in unincorporated Boulder County, there were 156 homes destroyed, along with 48 homes and two commercial buildings damaged. The estimated loss for homes is $131.3 million.

Two individuals are believed to have died in the fire. Both were from homes that were completely destroyed.

Civitas Resources, Inc. has pledged a million dollars to assist with recovery. FEMA issued a major disaster declaration on Jan. 1 (DR-4634). As of April 7, 935 individual assistance applications had been approved for an obligation of just over $1.85 million.

You can support CDP’s response to the wildfires by donating to our Colorado Wildfires Recovery Fund.

Florida

Previous major fires in Florida
Chipola Complex Fires

New Mexico

The Calf Canyon Fire and Hermits Peak Fire merged into what has become the largest active wildfire in the U.S. and the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history. In northern New Mexico, the Hermits Peak Fire started on April 6 and as of May 11 had burned 236,939 acres and was 33% contained. The fire is burning through mixed conifer in steep, rugged terrain that poses challenges for firefighter access. The fire started as a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest near Las Vegas, however unexpected winds caused the burn to get out of control.

Source: The New York Times

On May 3, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for New Mexico (DR-4652-NM). The declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties.

“Federal funding also is available to state, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures.”

Las Vegas is a town of about 13,000 that serves as a hub for the surrounding villages and ranches. New Mexico is the nation’s most heavily Hispanic state, with nearly 48% of the population claiming Hispanic or Latino heritage. No lives have been lost at the time of writing; however, 172 homes were damaged, and thousands of people have been evacuated.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said on May 10 that at least 184 households have applied for and received some relief totaling around $130,000. While evacuations have been downgraded on the southeast edge of the fire, evacuations continue in areas on the northern part of the fire. The state estimated that $50 million has been spent fighting the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire.

Dry, above-normal temperatures and erratic wind gusts continue to complicate efforts to slow down the spread of fires in recent weeks. According to the NWS in Albuquerque on May 11, “The dry and windy pattern combined with unseasonable warmth and an unstable air mass will create widespread critical fire weather conditions through Thursday.”

Much of the Southwest has been under a prolonged, severe drought that has fostered the critical fire conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly summary said conditions deteriorated in northwestern Arizona and across much of New Mexico in recent days. Much of the state remains in extreme drought (D3) or exceptional drought (D4).

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

At least seven other wildfires are currently burning across New Mexico, according to InciWeb.

The Cooks Peak Fire is located on private land north of Ocate in Mora County. As of May 10, the fire had burned 59,359 acres and is 97% contained. On May 5, all communities were removed from evacuation status. No damages or injuries were reported but windy conditions have made it difficult to fight the fire.

The McBride Fire started on April 12 near the town of Ruidoso and quickly spread into residential areas. As of May 9, the fire had burned more than 6,000 acres and damaged more than 200 homes. The fire is 100% contained. Fire crews are continuing to mop-up hotspots. Two people were killed when a power line was toppled by strong winds.

The Cerro Pelado Fire is burning seven miles east of Jemez Springs. As of May 11, the fire had burned 42,491 acres and was 11% contained. Wind continues to be a challenge for firefighters with another Red Flag Warning on May 11. More than 1,000 personnel are involved, and additional crews have been ordered. The town of Los Alamos is bracing for possible evacuations as the fire grows. Applying lessons from the Los Conchas Fire means fire officials are better prepared.

Texas

There are several areas of ongoing support that are needed in the recovery phase. These include the rebuilding of homes or repair of damage, debris clean-up, soil remediation, temporary housing, physical and mental health, agricultural support, and livelihood/income support.

Funders should also consider the following options to support fire-impacted communities now and to reduce the impact of future fires:

Award loans and grants for rebuilding damaged homes and businesses.

There is currently a $2 million cap on disaster loans for businesses or private and nonprofit organizations through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. That amount may not cover what is needed, and monies allocated may be slow to arrive. Companies often hire migrant workers to work on rebuilding projects, and they do not always provide safe and adequate housing, food and other support. Make fair hiring practices a component of your grants.

Support local agencies on the ground throughout the disaster life cycle, especially those working with marginalized communities.

Those in already precarious situations — such as the elderly, sick, undocumented and mixed-status families, and people living in poverty — may find their circumstances worsened in the face of disaster. Mental health providers, food banks and organizations working with children or the elderly, for example, must have plans in place to mitigate the disaster’s impacts.

Fund drought mitigation efforts.

These may focus on sustainable agriculture, water conservation or land use. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, an emerging area for research is land use patterns that “maintain the integrity of watersheds and that have a smaller paved footprint result in greater resilience in the face of drought.”

Invest in public awareness and educational campaigns as well as dissemination of promising practices in wildfire and drought mitigation.

Simple efforts such as clearing flammable materials from 100 feet around the house may help prevent property damage. Fires can also be started by misuse of equipment, such as grills, that can be averted with proper knowledge.

Assist businesses in developing business continuity and disaster recovery plans to reduce economic impact.

These plans should include contingencies for displaced workers, back up of data and alternate facilities for continuing operations in the event of property damage.

Consider the needs of volunteer fire departments.

As volunteers, they often lack the structural support of larger departments, and their resources may have been depleted during the wildfire.

Support the creation of “smart growth” efforts.

Smart planning can help mitigate wildfires or prevent them altogether.

Houses on fire on Boulder County caused by the Marshall Fire

As with most disasters, experts recommend cash donations. They allow on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

Support recovery now

Contact CDP

Philanthropic contributions

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has two specific funds for wildfire needs, one for California and one for Colorado. In addition, our Disaster Recovery Fund provides support for wildfire-affected areas in the remainder of the United States and our Global Recovery Fund provides support for Canada, Mexico and the rest of the world.

(Photo: Burning homes on the path of the Marshall Fire. Source: South Metro Fire Rescue via Twitter.)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to  tanya.gulliver-garcia@disasterphilanthropy.org.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to support recovery from this disaster, please email regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org.

Note: If you are an individual who was affected by the disaster, we encourage you to contact your local 211 to see what resources are available in your community.

Philanthropic and government support

CDP awarded a $309,686 grant to Impact on Education to expand its mental health advocate program at seven schools located in Louisville, Superior and Boulder counties where the Marshall Fire devastated communities.

More ways to help

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not: Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime funding opportunities.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities. Local community foundations also have insights into nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are best suited to respond in a particular community.

Related resources

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Wildfires

Wildfires

Weather can significantly affect the frequency and severity of wildfires. Prolonged drought can extend prime wildfire season, making blazes more likely. Additionally, high temperatures and low humidity can quickly dry out vegetation which then becomes potential fuel.

Drought

Drought

Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.

Emergency Response Services

Emergency Response Services

Emergency response services are the public, private and volunteer organizations that respond to incidents that threaten the safety and wellbeing of people in their area.