Fox News Weather Center

Wildfire risk to ramp up in western US following below-normal start to year

Building heat and dryness will increase the wildfire danger to above average in portions of the western United States through the end of the summer.

While acreage burned thus far in 2016 is behind the 10-year average, existing conditions and expected upcoming weather will likely substantially increase the wildfire threat into the early autumn. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 2,422,186 acres have burned in the U.S. thus far this year, verses the 10-year average of 3,191,530 acres to date.

Pockets of cool, wet weather in the West into the late spring may have been responsible for the relatively slow start to the fire season this year.

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"By far, the greatest risk for wildfires will continue to focus over coastal areas of central and Southern California," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

During the late summer and early autumn, the fire danger typically increases in central and Southern California as humidity levels lower and temperatures and offshore winds increase.

Monsoon moisture will either fail to reach much of California and western Nevada or will only briefly visit the region through the end of the summer.

"Years of drought and increasing amounts of dead vegetation will play a role and could make the fire season especially bad this year," Duffey, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said.

"The vegetation spurred on by the cool and damp conditions from the spring will eventually dry out and become the fuel for the fires," Duffey said. "Where little or no rain falls, lightning strikes or human interactions could easily ignite a blaze."

The dryness will build from portions of northern California and northern Nevada to southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho and into parts of Montana and Wyoming in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, episodes of monsoon moisture, including during this week, will trigger higher humidity levels and locally drenching thunderstorms in portions of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

Where the storms are frequent enough to moisten the landscape, the risk of fires may decrease somewhat moving forward this summer in part of the Four Corners region.

While the risk of wildfires will increase over the coastal Northwest, as it typically does during the second half of the summer, conditions in Washington, northern Idaho and northwestern Oregon should be no worse than average.

Portions of the Northwest have been cooler and slightly wetter than average into the first part of the summer.

The northward pulse of monsoon moisture from this week will get squeezed southward, along with the chance of thunderstorms, before the end of July.

"Spotty thunderstorms this week and later in the summer over the northern Rockies and upper part of the Great Basin will tend to be mostly dry, but can produce a significant amount of lightning strikes," Duffey said.

Property owners can help reduce the risk of their homes being taken by a wildfire. Keep brush to a minimum and clear trees to at least a few dozen feet away. Consider metal or ceramic tile roofs, which offer more fire resistance to burning embers, versus asphalt shingles.

Use extreme caution when using outdoor power and cooking equipment. Avoid parking over grassy areas or in brush as the exhaust system of most vehicles is hot enough to start a fire.

Have a plan of action, in case a fire develops in your area.