Experts warn that the 2019 wildfire season in the U.S. could be a bad one. A report issued by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) earlier this month paints a bleak picture of what firefighters are likely to face this season. According to the report, significant fire activity is expected to begin around the end of July or early August.
The area in the most danger remains the West Coast, which has been devastated by powerful and deadly wildfires for the past several years. Contributing to the West Coast’s fire vulnerability are issues such as excessive fuel and droughts, although the area did receive relatively high amounts of moisture in May, which according to the NIFC, has kept fires at bay.
California has already begun to take preemptive measures in hopes of reducing the chances a fire will start in the state. The Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) announced last week that it would begin shutting off power in Napa, Solano and Yolo counties. The move, according to PG&E, is aimed at reducing wildfire risk in areas they say are in “extreme fire risk.” At least 1,600 people are affected by the blackouts, which can last several hours.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations, in a press release. “We know how much our customers rely on electric service, and our decision tonight to turn off power is to protect our communities experiencing extreme fire danger.”
While fire crews are well-versed in the hazards of their occupation, at least one new technology may be creating an additional element of danger. According to a report from The Herald Sun in North Carolina, firefighting helicopter crews are becoming increasingly concerned about civilian-operated drones in the fire zone. At least twice this year, North Carolina Forest Service (NCFS) aircrews have spotted drones flying near wildfires, and some are concerned they will become threats to aircraft.
“Birds are flesh and bone. They have a tendency to give, though they do damage to airplanes,” said Robert Delleo, a pilot with the NCFS while speaking to The Herald Sun. “But if we were to run into a drone, which is not flesh and bone, it would be catastrophic.”
As of June 9, there were 15 active wildfires considered to be large incidents. They are burning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. The U.S. Forest Service keeps an updated map of working fires on its website.