Wildfires - March 2012


Updated: 9 April 2012


Overview

During March, wildfire activity across the U.S. was below average, although warm and dry conditions occurred across a large portion of the country. The 89,771 acres which burned in March was the 2nd least in the period of record, and the 5,354 fires was the fourth least.

1-Month Wildfire Statistics*
March Totals Rank
(out of 13 years)
Record 2000-2010
Average
Value Year
Acres Burned 89,771 12ᵗʰ Most 1,438,355 2006 292,473
2ⁿᵈ Least
Number of Fires 5,354 10ᵗʰ Most 15,006 2006 8,681
4ᵗʰ Least
Acres Burned per Fire 16.8 9ᵗʰ Most 95.9 2006 28.7
5ᵗʰ Least
Year-to-Date Wildfire Statistics*
January–March Totals Rank
(out of 13 years)
Record 2000-2010
Average
Value Year
Acres Burned 182,417 9ᵗʰ Most 1,849,366 2006 427,405
5ᵗʰ Least
Number of Fires 10,351 10ᵗʰ Most 21,731 2009 14,252
4ᵗʰ Least
Acres Burned per Fire 17.6 7ᵗʰ Most 88.3 2006 26.5
7ᵗʰ Least

*Data Source: The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

Discussion

As a whole, the contiguous U.S. had its warmest March on record, with much-warmer-than-average temperatures across the eastern two-thirds of the country. Precipitation totals were mixed during March, with drier-than-average conditions across the inter-mountain West, parts of the Northern Plains, Ohio Valley, the Northeast, and Florida. Wetter-than-average conditions were observed across the Pacific Northwest and the Southern Plains. See the U.S. temperature and precipitation discussion for additional information. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the percent area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing Moderate-to-Exceptional Drought (D1-D4) shrank from 38.7 percent at the beginning of March to 36.8 percent at the beginning of April. During March, drought conditions deteriorated by one-to-two categories across the Southwest. Improvements of one drought category were observed across the Southern Plains which were wetter than average during March. Very little change in drought was observed across the Upper Midwest, with Severe Drought persisting across southern Minnesota and Iowa. Drought conditions also persisted across the Southeast, with a slight improvement of the Exceptional Drought across southern Georgia.

Significant Events

During the last week of March, the Lower North Fork Fire destroyed approximately 4,140 acres southwest of Denver, Colorado. The wildfire started on March 26th, when embers from a separate controlled burn ignited the fire. Extremely high winds and dry, abundant fuels caused the fire to grow rapidly out of control into populated areas. The rapid growth of the intense fire resulted in the fatalities of three citizens, destruction or damage to 25 homes and numerous outbuildings, and caused thousands of residents to evacuate the area. The fire was fully contained by April 2nd.

Wildfire information and environmental conditions are provided by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS).

At the beginning March, there were there were 15 large wildfires active across the country. Ten of the wildfires were active across eastern Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas, where moderately low 10-hour and 100-hour fuel moistures and high fire danger were observed. Two fires were burning across eastern Tennessee, where windy and dry conditions the last few days of February created ideal wildfire conditions. Two fires were burning across Florida, which has been particularly dry for the past several months, lowering fuel moistures and increasing the KBDI values across the state. One additional large wildfire was burning in South Dakota.

At the middle of March, there were 21 large fires burning across the country. Seven of the fires were burning across the Northern Plains of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, where warm and dry conditions during the month increased fire danger and lowered 10-hour fuel moistures. There were five large wildfires burning across Texas and Arizona, where Severe Drought and high KBDI values were reported. Five fires were active across the Ohio Valley, where low 10-hour fuel moistures were observed

On March 30th, there were 13 large wildfires burning across the country. Three large fires were burning across the Southern Appalachians of Virginia and Tennessee, where moderately low 10-hour fuel moistures were observed. Four large wildfires were active across South Dakota and Nebraska, where low 1,000-hour fuel moistures were observed. Three fires were burning in Kansas and Missouri which was experiencing low 10-hour fuel moistures at the end of the month. One fire was burning in the panhandle of Florida, where high KBDI values were present. The last fire burning was the Lower North Fork Fire in Colorado, where low 10-hour and 100-hour fuel moistures combined with very strong winds to create high fire danger.


All Fire Related Maps


Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Wildfires for March 2012, published online April 2012, retrieved on October 23, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/2012/3.