Wildfires - March 2011



Updated: 7 April 2011

Above-average fire activity, which began in February across the southern tier of the U.S., continued into March. Although the number of new wildfires was slightly below average, the total acreage burned was much-above normal. Warmer than average temperatures and below average precipitation across the Southern Plains were associated with favorable wildfire conditions. Please see the monthly temperature and precipitation discussion for more information. During March, there were 7,316 new wildfires across the country, which burned 385,043 acres (155,800 hectares), marking the second most acres burned during March in the 12-year period of record. In March 2006, 1,438,255 acres (582,000 hectares) were burned across the country. The relatively small number of fires compared to the large acreage burned was reflected in the average fire size during the month of 52.6 acres (21.3 hectares) — the second largest in the period of record. At the beginning of March, there were 14 large wildfires burning across the U.S., six in Texas, four in Florida, and one each in Kansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Virginia. On the 15th, there were 23 large wildfires burning, 11 in Oklahoma, three in both Missouri and Arkansas, and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. By the end of March, fire activity shifted eastward, with nine large fires active, three in Louisiana, two in Mississippi, two in Georgia, and one each in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

2011 Wildfire Statistics

(Source: NIFC)
Year–To–Date Totals as of March 28th Nationwide Number of Fires Nationwide Number of Acres Burned
03/30/2011 17,068 589,416
03/30/2010 8,535 140,617
03/30/2009 21,731 541,244
03/30/2008 11,088 516,243
03/30/2007 16,264 261,411
03/30/2006 20,942 1,849,366
03/30/2005 9,253 130,797
03/30/2004 13,658 150,630
03/30/2003 7,395 93,980
03/30/2002 14,718 200,752
03/30/2001 14,412 266,547
03/30/2000 18,779 549,866
5–yr average
(2006 – 2010)
17,712 661,776
10–yr average
(2001 – 2010)
13,800 427,405

According to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), at the end of March, the nationwide number of fires year-to-date was 17,068, which burned 589,416 acres (238,530 hectares), with an average of 34.5 acres (14.0 hectares) per fire. This marks the fourth largest number of fires for the year-to-date period and the second largest acreage burned since records began in 2000. During March, an estimated 385,043 acres (155,800 hectares) burned across the U.S., which was 32 percent above the 2000-2010 average. A total of 7,316 fires were reported during the month, which was slightly below the 2000-2010 average of 8,680. The average number of acres burned per fire was 52.6 acres (21.3 hectares), which was also above average.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the overall size of the drought footprint across the contiguous U.S. grew slightly during March, and many locations that were experiencing drought at the beginning of March had worsening drought conditions by the end of the month. Drought conditions across the West and the northern tier of the country remained generally unchanged. In these regions, an active storm track kept drought conditions from developing. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, where precipitation was scarce during the month, severe drought intensified to extreme. By the end of March, 95 percent of Texas was experiencing drought, and 43 percent of the state was classified as being in extreme drought. Extreme and moderate drought also developed for parts of the Red River Valley in Oklahoma. Across the southeastern coast and the Florida peninsula, drought conditions changed little with moderate-to-severe drought persisting. Beneficial rain fell across the interior Southeast, with the moderate drought in Tennessee, and northern Alabama and Mississippi being alleviated. Drought conditions also remained generally unchanged across Alaska and Hawaii.

The last week of March, a large complex of fires burned across southeast Georgia, just west of Savannah. The fires burned a total of 41,850 acres (16,900 acres) between March 26th and April 1st. The fires occurred in a relatively remote area, with only minimal property damages reported. However, three homes were destroyed in Long County. Several state highways had to be closed in the region due to the heavy smoke. Governor Deal declared a state of emergency in four counties. According to the Georgia Forestry Commission, there have been 2,000 wildfires in the state since February, which were partially driven by ongoing drought conditions.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – Wildland Fire Assessment System, on March 1st, high fire danger was reported across western Texas and eastern New Mexico, across central Missouri, the Lower Mississippi River Valley, and the North Carolina Piedmont. By the middle of the month, rainfall across the southeast quieted the fire danger in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and the Carolinas. The high fire danger across western Texas intensified and spread westward across New Mexico and southern Arizona. High fire danger also expanded across the central Plains. At the end of March, high fire danger was only occurring across the western half of the country — central Kansas, western Texas, across the southern Rockies extending into the Southwest, and across parts of the Great Basin.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – Wildland Fire Assessment System, on March 1st, low 10-hour fuel moistures were reported across the Mid-Atlantic, the Middle and Lower Mississippi River Valley, most the Southern Plains, the southern Rockies, the Southwest, and the Great Basin. The spatial pattern of low 100-hour and 1,000-hour fuel moistures were similar for the U.S. at the beginning of the month, with low values observed across western Texas, southern New Mexico, southern Arizona, and the Great Basin. By the middle of the month, the low 10-hour fuel moistures were alleviated across the Mid-Atlantic, but low 10-hour fuel moistures developed along the Gulf Coast. Low 10-hour fuel moistures also developed along the Front Range of the Rockies and most of the High Plains. The low 10-hour fuel moistures persisted for the southwestern quadrant of the country. The low 100-hour and 1,000-hour fuel moistures were drier across western Texas, southern New Mexico, and southern Arizona. By the 31st, low 100-hour fuel moistures developed for portions of the Northeast and western Great Lakes, while both low 100-hour and 1,000 hour fuel moistures persisted across the Southwest.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – Wildland Fire Assessment System, at the beginning of the month, high Keetch–Byram Drought Index (KBDI) values were occurring along the Florida Peninsula, across the Southern Plains, parts of southern Arizona, and the Great Basin. By the middle of the month, the high KBDI values in southern Florida expanded northward. The high KBDI values persisted across the southern Plains and expanded into southern New Mexico. On March 31st, precipitation shrank the footprint of the high KBDI values in Florida, while persistent dryness allowed them to expand across the Southern Plains.


Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Wildfires for March 2011, published online April 2011, retrieved on September 16, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/2011/3.