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Science & Environment

Federal Fire Managers Forecast Above Average Wildfire Season

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The severe drought here in the West has brought warnings of another long and expensive summer fighting wildfires. Federal officials say the most vulnerable states include California and Alaska, where two large wildfires are already burning. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Federal land managers gave their annual wildfire briefing at a wildlife refuge outside Denver, a bright, green island in the otherwise bone-dry West. That wasn't lost on U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

TOM TIDWELL: You know, we've been fortunate that we've had some very favorable weather here in this part of the country. It's great to be able to see how green it is. It's great to be able to see a little bit of snow still up on the top of the mountains.

SIEGLER: But Tidwell says it won't take long for all that green in the Rockies to dry out. And the situation further west is much worse. The Forest Service is warning states from California to Washington to brace for an above average wildfire season. Last year, the Carlton complex was the largest wildfire in Washington's history, blackening some 400 square miles and destroying hundreds of homes. Federal land managers are renewing pressure on Congress to create a separate fund under FEMA to pay for fighting catastrophic blazes like that. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that would leave more money for prevention programs.

TOM VILSACK: It's not like you're increasing the budget. You're just simply using a fund that's set aside for natural disasters, and that's precisely what these are.

SIEGLER: This idea has been proposed in one bill or another since back in the George W. Bush administration, but it's never been implemented. Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.