The nation's top wildfire-fighting official says the 2016 season isn't expected to be as bad as last year, when a record 15,800 square miles burned nationwide.

But U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Wednesday that Southern California, other parts of the Southwest, Alaska and Montana could face severe fires.

Tidwell spoke to The Associated Press four days before the federal government issues its wildfire outlook for the summer season. He was in Denver for a conference on forest health.

Much of California remains in a long-term drought, despite an El Nino weather system that brought near-average snowfall to its mountains.

Tidwell says Montana and Alaska also suffered through dry winters.

The Forest Service is the nation's primary wildfire-fighting agency. Last year it spent a record $1.72 billion fighting fires.