Wildfires - December 2010


Updated: 11 January 2011

*Data are for the period November 26th–December 30th, and are from the National Interagency Fire Center.


December is not part of the active wildfire season across the western U.S., and little fire activity is expected during the month. December 2010 was not an exception. Between November 26th and December 30th, 5,826 fires burned 117,596 acres (28,219 hectares) across the United States. Weather conditions averaged for December indicated that the western and northern states were wetter than average, while the states across the South, Southeast, and Midwest were drier than average. Temperatures followed a similar spatial pattern — the West tended to be warmer than average while most of the central and eastern regions were cooler than average. See the national temperature and precipitation State of the Climate report for additional information on temperatures and precipitation. Wildfire activity during December was confined to the regions with the driest conditions. On December 10th, there were five large fires active in the U.S., three in Texas and one each in Oklahoma, and Florida. Fire activity picked up by the 23rd when ten large fires were active — three in Oklahoma and Florida, two in Texas, and one each in Arkansas and New Mexico. By the end of the month, fire activity continued to be confined to the driest regions of the country. Seven fires were burning on the 30th, three in Florida and two each in Oklahoma and Texas.

2010 Wildfire Statistics

(Source: NIFC)
Year–To–Date Totals as of December 26th Nationwide Number of Fires Nationwide Number of Acres Burned
12/30/2010 71,839 3,422,823
12/30/2009 79,513 5,914,821
12/30/2008 76,513 5,218,870
12/30/2007 85,583 9,318,710
12/30/2006 96,326 9,871,863
12/30/2005 66,546 8,686,716
12/30/2004 65,878 8,094,531
12/30/2003 63,269 3,959,223
12/30/2002 73,423 7,182,979
12/30/2001 83,996 3,570,225
12/30/2000 92,250 7,393,493
5–yr average
(2005 – 2009)
80,940 7,802,188
10–yr average
(2000 – 2009)
78,352 6,921,139

According to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), at the end of December, 5,826 fires burned 117,596 acres (28,219 hectares), with an average of 20.2 acres (8.2 hectares) per fire. Fire activity was mostly confined to the South and Southeast regions of the country. The number of new wildfires was 45 percent above average while the number of acreage burned was 47 percent below average, continuing the 2010 annual trend of below-average acreage burned. Please visit the 2010 annual wildfire report on the overall fire conditions during 2010.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the overall drought foot print increased during December from covering 14 percent of the country to covering 19.9 percent. The wet conditions improved the drought conditions across Utah, Nevada, and California, while conditions worsened across southern Arizona and New Mexico. The drier than average weather across the Southern Plains worsened the drought in most of Texas and Oklahoma by one to three categories. Drought conditions also worsened for the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the Gulf Coast, and most of the Florida peninsula. Several weather systems moving through the Ohio River Valley improved drought conditions there one to two categories and ended drought in the central Appalachians. Conditions in the rest of the Southeast remained generally unchanged. The state of Hawaii saw a vast improvement in drought conditions where two frontal systems dropped several inches of rain on the parched archipelago. The abnormally dry regions in central Alaska also experienced improvement.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Wildland Fire Assessment System, at the beginning of December regions experiencing high fire danger was consistent with the location of drier-than-average weather conditions. The highest fire danger was occurring across southern California and Arizona, stretching into central Texas. By the 15th, wet weather lowered the fire danger across the Southwest, while dry conditions intensified the fire danger across central and northern Texas. High fire danger was also reported across the piedmont of the Southeast. Precipitation during the last half of December limited the occurrence of high fire danger on the 30th to northern Texas.

According to the USFS Wildland Fire Assessment System, at the beginning of the month, low 10-hour fuel moistures were present across the Southwest, Southern Rockies, and the Southern Plains as well as the Florida and the Carolina Coast. Low 100-hour fuel moistures were widespread across the Southwest, Great Basin, and Southern Plains. Persistent wetness limited low 1,000-hour fuel moistures to the Southern Plains. On the 15th, precipitation across the West had moistened fuels there, with low 10-hour, 100-hour, and 1,000-hour fuel moistures were reported across southern Arizona, the Southern Rockies, and Southern Plains. Low 10-hour and 100-hour fuel moistures were widespread across Florida and the Mid-Atlantic. By the end of December, the low 10-hour fuel moistures increased across the West and Southeast with the only low 10-hour fuel moistures reported across the Southern Plains. Precipitation also limited low 100-hour and 1,000-hour fuel moistures across most of the country except for western Texas.

According to the USFS Wildland Fire Assessment System, at the beginning of the month, regions with high Keetch–Byram Drought Index (KBDI) values were consistent with regions experiencing drought. At the beginning of December, high KBDI values were reported across the Southwest, the Great Basin, most of Texas, the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the Southeast Coast, and the Florida Peninsula. By the 15th, conditions across the West remained generally unchanged, while high KBDI values increased in spatial extent across Texas and the Southeast. The widespread precipitation across the West during the last half of the month lowered the high KBDI values there. Only Texas and Florida reported high KBDI values by the 31st.


Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Wildfires for December 2010, published online January 2011, retrieved on April 16, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/2010/12.