Wildfires heat up 2007 and leave the country covered in a cloud of smoke

Though fires are not incredibly uncommon, non-arson-induced wildfires in 2007 burned more violently, especially in the West. Destroying over a million acres of public, residential, and agricultural land, the fires were impossible to avoid and almost as difficult to extinguish. Most of us were aware of the Southern California fires during the summer, but as the frequency of the blazes increased, many of the other stories were lost in the smoke. In 2007, there were wildfires in SoCal, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida, amounting to 72 fires thusfar. And even though winter is upon us, the flames aren’t done yet. California continues to suffer fire damage; their latest was a brushfire near Irvine, Ca. on Oct. 21. Various sources agree that one factor that most influenced the fires this year was land development. National statistics say that 40 percent of homes in the Western and Plain states are built on land that is susceptible to wildfires. The fires have destroyed over 400 homes in 2007, more than one and a half times more than last year, according to federal statistics. Housing fires also force firefighters to make quick and aggressive decisions in order to save homes and keep the fire from spreading to other houses. The difficulty in putting out a large fire in a housing community results often in firefighter injury or death. As of mid-September this year, seven firefighters were killed in their attempt to douse the flames. The other biggest factor that influenced the size and frequency of fires this year was the rampant national drought. Electrical storms in the warm summer months often send down bolts of lightning, but lack of moisture in the ground and air and an increase in the temperature result in more common strikes. If that lightning touches a tree or dry grass, a blaze can start immediately and spread dangerously fast, aided by the wind. Temperature can also affect wind patterns and speed, and high-intensity airstreams definitely strengthened the spread of the flames. Because these fires destroyed land, homes, buildings, vehicles, agriculture and livestock, and even human lives, the total cost of damage can not fully be determined at this time. However, economists have estimated loss of around $1 billion per fire. Many statistics have not been finalized for this year, but photos and more information are available through the NASA, the US Geological Services, and the National Interagency Fire Center Web sites.