Wildfires - January 2009

Update: 09 February 2009

Historically, January is not part of the wildfire season in the United States.  However, dry conditions across eastern Oklahoma and north central Texas since late in 2008 contributed to the development of several wildfires in the region during the month.  On January 2nd, firefighters were battling six large wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma.  By mid–January, nine active large wildfires were burning in Texas (2), Oklahoma (5), Arkansas (1), and Colorado (1).  The majority of these fires were concentrated in eastern Oklahoma.  Fire activity grew to a total of 23 large fires on January 23rd, with 14 wildfires clustered in the region of eastern Oklahoma, northwestern Arkansas and southern Missouri.  Additional fires were reported in Colorado (1), Texas (5), Louisiana (1), and the Florida Panhandle (1).  Activity decreased at the end of January, as increased humidity across many affected areas suppressed new ignition and existing fires were contained.  A significant late January storm system brought snow to eastern Oklahoma and across northern Arkansas, but 26 new large fires were reported during the last week of the month, primarily in eastern Oklahoma, Texas, northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.  Additional fires flared up in southern Mississippi, central Florida and southeastern Maryland.  As of the 30th of January, all 30 fires that had been active during the preceding week had been contained, bringing the total number of large fires contained in 2009 to 54.

Links to Large Fire Maps:
[ January 02 |  January 16 |  January 23 |  January 30 ]

According to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), between January 1st and January 30th approximately 57,150 acres (23,128 ha) were burned across the United States.  A total of 2,481 new wildfires were reported, which is 660 above the 2000–2009 average of 1,821 fires.  This is the third greatest number of fires in January since 2000, but is 690 fewer fires than the highest value in 2006.

For the period from January 1st through January 30th, total acreage burned was 734 acres (297 ha) above the 2000–2009 average of 56,416 acres (22,831 ha), and for that 10–year period is the second greatest amount of acreage burnt in January after 2006.  January, 2009 ranks fourth since 2000 in terms of the average size of fires.  The average acreage burned per fire in January was around 23 acres per fire.  This is 2 acres per fire less than the 2000–2009 average (but 10 acres per fire above the median value of 13 acres per fire).

The U.S. Drought Monitor at the end of January indicated severe drought conditions over much of California, Texas and Hawai'i as well as Nevada, Wisconsin, the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the region encompassing northeastern Georgia and the western Carolinas.  Extreme to exceptional drought was present in southern central Texas, northern California, the western Carolinas and northeastern Georgia, and parts of the Hawaiian Islands.  In the Big Bend region of Texas, drought monitor discussions have reported high fire risk in association with the dry conditions, and all counties in the area have instituted a ban on open fires.  Lack of precipitation in the coming months may exacerbate fire danger in many of these dry regions.

At the start of 2009, no part of the country was in extreme fire danger, however high to very high fire danger existed from the mid–Atlantic seaboard across to the southeastern tip of Missouri, affecting large parts of the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.  Small areas of high fire danger also existed in about ten other states in the southern, southwestern and western U.S.  The southern tip of California was also under very high fire danger at the beginning of the month.

January precipitation reduced much of the fire danger in the eastern United States by mid–month.  However, fire danger increased from northern Missouri and southern Illinois southwestward into northern Texas.  Additionally, parts of southern California were under extreme fire risk by the middle of January.  By the end of the month, however, only southern California and small areas in the Southwest, the Plains, and the Gulf Coast had a high to extreme risk of wildfire, according to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – Wildland Fire Assessment System.

Links to Fire Danger Maps:
[ December 31, 2008  |  January 14, 2009  |  January 29, 2009 ]

2009 Wildfire Statistics

(Source: NIFC)
Year–To–Date Totals as of January 30th Nationwide Number of Fires Nationwide Number of Acres Burned
01/30/2009 2,481 57,150
01/30/2008 1,380 40,804
01/30/2007 387 4,597
01/30/2006 3,171 322,499
01/30/2005 1,674 9,735
01/30/2004 1,740 15,386
01/30/2003 1,964 18,818
01/30/2002 1,383 10,079
01/23/2001* 1,231 44,334
01/30/2000 2,796 40,757
5–yr average
(2005 – 2009)
1,819 86,957
10–yr average
(2000 – 2009)
1,821 56,416
*Data for 1/30/2001 were not available from NIFC.

At the end of 2008, critically low 10–hour dead fuel moisture levels existed throughout the Carolinas and across the Southwest U.S. from central Texas to southern California.  Although fuel moisture levels improved in the eastern U.S. by mid–January, they deteriorated further in the Southwest, reaching extreme dryness in southern California.  Toward the end of the month, 10–hour fuel moisture had improved slightly in the Southwest, but remained at very low levels.  100–hr and 1000–hr fuel moisture levels followed a pattern similar to the 10–hour levels during January.

Links to 10–hr Fuel Moisture Maps:
[ December 31, 2008  |  January 14, 2009  |  January 29, 2009 ]

Links to 100–hr Fuel Moisture Maps:
[ December 31, 2008 |  January 14, 2009 |  January 29, 2009 ]

Links to 1000–hr Fuel Moisture Maps:
[ December 31, 2008  |  January 14, 2009  |  January 29, 2009 ]

The Keetch–Byram Drought Index (KBDI), a widely used drought index for fire risk, showed dry conditions at the beginning of the month in the western U.S., Texas, and Florida.  The mid–month KBDI, however, showed increasing dryness across much of Nevada, while central Texas and much of Florida remained at dangerously high levels.  Conditions present at the middle of January persisted through the remainder of the month, with an increase in KBDI values across southern Florida.

Links to KBDI Maps:
[ December 31, 2008  |  January 14, 2009  |  January 29, 2009 ]

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Wildfires for January 2009, published online February 2009, retrieved on June 12, 2021 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/200901.