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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.”

Editor’s Note: The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) maintains a profile on International Wildfires which covers all major wildfire areas outside of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

(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 but also share information about significant fires that are affecting people and property. 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 3, unchanged from last week, indicating that most areas are able to manage fires in their regions without help from other areas.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) statistics show that as of Aug. 10, 2022, 40,775 fires have already burned a total of 5,883,577 acres. This is above the 10-year average of 36,050 fires and the average acreage of 4,083,859 acres. The fire season is continuing to be steady with 30 large uncontained fires across the United States.

Alaska

The outlook in Alaska is improving, but historically the worst of the fire season happens in the later part of the summer. According to NBC News, long-range forecasts are looking remarkably similar to 2004 when fires burned over 10,000 square miles in the state.

Active fires
There are no large active fires burning in Alaska as of Aug. 10.

Previous fires
Clear Fire
Lime Complex Fire
Minto Lakes Fire

Arizona

On June 12, the Pipeline Fire began six miles north of Flagstaff. As of Aug. 2, the fire had burned 26,532 acres and was 90% contained. Hundreds of Coconino County residents were evacuated on June 12, and the county’s board of supervisors declared a state of emergency.

Residents of Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff living below fire-impacted watersheds are at an increased risk of flooding. The county and city urged residents to purchase flood insurance and sign up for emergency alerts.

The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams completed their soil burn severity (SBS) map of the Pipeline Fire on June 24. The map provides essential data for calculating post-fire flood risk. Just 5% of the burned acres were determined to have sustained a high SBS. Wildfires often destroy vegetation that acts as a protective barrier during heavy rainfall. Preventative thinning proved effective at helping slow down the fire in some areas.

Previous major fires in Arizona
Contreras Fire
Haywire Fire
Tunnel Fire

California

The Oak Fire, which started on July 22, is burning just outside of the town of Mariposa at the base of the Sierra Madre mountains. It very quickly exploded in size due to high winds, high temperatures and ongoing dry conditions.

As of Aug. 10, it was 19,244 acres in size with 90% containment and had forced the evacuation of thousands of people. As residents fled the area, thousands of firefighters and hundreds of pieces of equipment along with dozens of aircraft mounted a direct attack on the flames. This was only possible because the low number of active wildfires in the United States means that more resources than usual are available. This quick response meant that approximately half of the evacuated residents were able to cautiously return to their homes in the evening of July 27.

The McKinney Fire is burning inside the Klamath National Forest, just south of the Oregon border. First reported on July 29, as of Aug. 10, it was mapped at 60,389 acres and had reached 60% containment.

Firefighters are hopeful that it will be fully contained in the coming weeks but caution that the area is experiencing a severe drought with leaves already beginning to change color as a result of the lack of moisture.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the area, making it easier for resources from other parts of the State and around the country to be deployed to fight the fire. Sadly, at least four people have died – two in a car that was overcome by fire, and two more in separate residences.

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

Idaho

After an uneventful start to the fire season, Idaho’s Moose Fire has exploded in size since it began on July 17. As of Aug. 10, it was 74,470 acres in size after growing 13,000 acres between July 30 and Aug. 2. It is only 21% contained – an increase of only 1% in the past week.

Firefighters are unable to attack the fire directly from the ground due to extreme fire behavior such as crown fires – where the fire jumps from treetop to treetop – and long-range spot fires that are burning ahead of the main fire. Firefighters have also been challenged to try and control the fire after all airborne activity – water bombers, helicopters and spotter aircraft – were grounded in the wake of a helicopter crash that killed two pilots who were fighting the fire.

Aerial activities had resumed by Aug. 10, including the use of drones to safely burn up fuels and help slow the advance of the main fire.

Montana

The Elmo Fire, burning just outside of the town of Elmo, is Montana’s first major fire of the year, starting on July 29 and reaching 21,348 acres and 61% containment as of Aug. 10. Hot and dry weather with gusty winds are fueling the aggressive spread of the fire that includes short-range spot fires and torching – a phenomenon where entire trees catch fire at the same time.

Firefighters are working to protect structures in the fire area as well as working to keep the fire from crossing Highway 93 where pilot cars are being used to help evacuate people due to the risk of smoke and fire. High winds are pushing the fire towards towns along the edge of Flathead Lake, which may help stop further spread but at the cost of sacrificing homes and livelihoods.

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 largest wildfire in the state’s history. In northern New Mexico, the Hermits Peak Fire started on April 6 and as of Aug. 9 had burned 341,735 acres and was 98% contained.

Crews are working on suppression repair, including working with landowners to fix fences that were cut during suppression operations. Firefighters assigned to the fire are now available to assist local units with any new fire that starts in the area.

Residents are now forced to prepare for flooding as the monsoon rains are expected to begin soon. Rain in areas of the burn scar can cause devastation because much of the vegetation that normally soaks up the water that hits the ground is no longer there. The raindrops hit the ground’s surface and pick up loosened soil as the water sweeps down mountainsides.

The U.S. Forest Service completed its Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER), a rapid assessment of burned watersheds. It found moderate to high soil burn severity in nearly half of the inspected areas. Post-fire water flow increases are likely, which can damage resources downstream.

In New Mexico, the monsoon season lasts from June 15 to Sept. 30, and these rains have already been observed in some parts of the state. On July 9, the NWS in Albuquerque issued a Flash Flood Warning for the Gallinas River Basin within the burn scar. The warning demonstrates the increased disaster risk that affected communities face due to the fire.

A NIFC map shows the fire perimeter and evacuations. The fire is demonstrating the widespread impacts of wildfires on the environment and people. The fire has torn through centuries-old rural communities. Descendants of Spanish colonizers continue to live on family homesteads that have been passed down for generations.

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.

The U.S. Forest Service released a review of the incident detailing the agency employee’s planning missteps, including using inaccurate models and underestimating how dry conditions were.

On May 28, federal fire investigators confirmed that the planned burn caused the fire. On May 20, the U.S. Forest Service called a temporary nationwide halt to controlled burns given the high fire danger levels. Despite the backlash and understandable table level of frustration following the failed prescribed burns, experts say it remains necessary to thin forests in the region.

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. On June 11, President Biden amended the declaration so the federal government would cover 100% of costs for protective work and debris removal.

As of Aug. 10, 1,194 Individual Assistance Applications had been approved. The total individual and household program dollars approved was $4,386,456.80.

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 unseasonably warm, dry and windy conditions exacerbated fire-weather conditions. While drought conditions have improved slightly in the state, much of the state remains in extreme drought (D3) or exceptional drought (D4).

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

Responding to a request from New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on May 18 the deployment of additional firefighting resources to help battle wildfires across New Mexico.

Previous major fires in New Mexico
Bear Trap Fire
Black Fire
Cerro Pelado Fire

Texas

On June 16, Texas Governor Greg Abbott renewed the wildfire disaster declaration that was initially proclaimed on March 18 in response to wildfires that began on Feb. 23.

Texas A&M Forest Service is responding to several fires this week, most small and localized. On Aug. 2, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported 224 of Texas’ 254 counties were under burn bans, the most at any one time since 2011.

As of July 19, the situation had only worsened with almost all of Texas under drought conditions ranging from severe to extreme.

Source: US Drought Monitor

Active fires
In Somervell County, the Chalk Mountain fire began on July 18 and is burning just west of the town of Glen Rose, which is southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth region. As of Aug. 2, it has burned 6,755 acres and is 93% contained.

Firefighters were successful in containing this fire in an efficient and effective manner, but high temperatures and ongoing drought in the state mean that fire conditions remain extreme and a fire that was thought to be contained could rekindle or a new fire could grow catastrophically with little to no warning. A Federal Fire Management disaster declaration (FM-5444) has been issued to help offset the costs associated with this fire.

Previous major fires in Texas
Big L Fire
Blanket Fire
Canadian River Bottom Fire
Crittenburg Complex Fire
Eastland Complex Fire

Utah

Active fires
There are no current large active fires in Utah.

Previous fires
Halfway Hill Fire

Canada

British Columbia
For the second time in as many years, the community of Lytton was evacuated as a wildfire threatened homes, businesses and residents. Last year’s Lytton Creek wildfire destroyed 90% of the town of 250 residents in the same week as the town shattered heat records. As of Aug. 10, it was listed as under control and the BC Fire service noted that no further updates would occur.

According to the BC Wildfire Service: “A representative from Lytton First Nation that specializes in archeological site and cultural values is working with structure protection specialists and BCWS crews to identify cultural values along the beginning of the Stein Valley walking path and will be providing guidance and recommendations on the best options for protection of those values.”

Newfoundland and Labrador
The island of Newfoundland is experiencing its worst fire season in at least 50 years, with three major out-of-control fires as of Aug. 10. The two largest: Paradise Lake and Bay D’Espoir Highway are burning just south of the community of Grand Falls-Windsor in the middle of the island. The Paradise Lake wildfire is mapped at 42,584 acres (17,233 hectares) while the Bay D’Espoir Highway wildfire is mapped at 13,872 acres (5,614 hectares).

Government officials have ordered residents in communities around Grand Falls-Windsor to be prepared to evacuate due to smoke concerns, while hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities are also being prepared to evacuate should the need arise. Officials are also working to keep essential supplies flowing into the affected communities as the primary route – Highway 360 or the Bay D’Espoir Highway – has been closed multiple times by its namesake fire.

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. Strengthening the capacity of such organizations is also essential.

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.

CDP awarded a $105,600 grant to United Way of Reno County through the Midwest Early Recovery Fund to support two disaster case managers for 18 months following the 2022 Reno County, Kansas wildfires.

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.

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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.