Mon. May 27th, 2024

2023 North American Wildfires – Center for Disaster Philanthropy

2023 North American Wildfires – Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Typically, wildfire season across North America has been from spring to fall (although it varies by region).

However, as the effects of climate change increase, disaster seasons are becoming less accurate. Since 2022, CDP’s wildfire profile has run by calendar year. This profile covers wildfires in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Climate change is having a significant impact on wildfires around the world and across the U.S. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Climate change, including increased heat, extended drought, and a thirsty atmosphere, has been a key driver in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the western United States during the last two decades. Wildfires require the alignment of a number of factors, including temperature, humidity, and the lack of moisture in fuels, such as trees, shrubs, grasses, and forest debris. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change.”

(Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash)

The National Interagency Fire Center issues a monthly “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook” on the first of the month. It details weather, drought conditions, past incidents and potential risk. Key points from the Aug. 1 Outlook include:

  • “Significant fire activity increased in July, especially during the latter half as the national preparedness levels increased from two to three (scale one to five) on July 21. Much of the significant fire activity was in the Southwest Geographic Area, but the Northern Rockies and Northwest Geographic Areas have multiple long-duration incident management team wildfires on the landscape.
  • Above normal significant fire potential is expected across the Northwest, Idaho, northwest Nevada, and western and central Montana through August.
  • Warmer and drier than normal conditions developed across the West in July, mostly due to the late arriving and weak North American Monsoon. Record breaking temperatures were observed across the southwestern US into Texas as a prolonged heat wave lasted much of July. Abnormally dry and drought conditions developed and expanded from the Lower Mississippi Valley through the southwestern US, with intensifying and expanding drought across parts of the Northwest and northern Rockies. Localized drying was also observed on portions of the northern Plains into the Upper Midwest and western Great Lakes.
  • Climate Prediction Center and Predictive Services monthly and seasonal outlooks depict likely above normal temperatures for the West, South, and East Coast into fall. Below normal precipitation is likely for the Southwest and likely into the broader Four Corners region as the North American Monsoon should continue to be below average this summer. Below normal precipitation is also forecast in portions of the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, and perhaps the western Great Lakes and Upper Midwest.”

What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, June 12

About our coverage

Though we would like to, we are unable to share information on every fire across the continent. Below, you will find some general information about the most significant fires of 2023.

We cover fires that significantly impact the surrounding areas and environment and affect residents, especially at-risk populations.

United States

The National Preparedness Level – set by the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group – was  increased to a Level 3 as of July 21, 2023, which indicates that  “two or more geographic areas require[e] significant amounts of wildland fire suppression resources from other areas. At this point, NICC [National Interagency Coordination Center] is moving an increased amount of wildland fire suppression resources around the country, including IMTs.”

The National Interagency Fire Center statistics show that, as of Aug. 9, 2023, there have been 32,602 fires this year that have burned just under 1.4 million acres. This is significantly below the 10-year average (2012-2021) of 36,021 fires and the average acreage of 4.14 million acres.

According to the Fire, Weather & Avalanche Center, as of Aug. 9, there were well over 275 wildfires burning, but the majority of the fires were extremely small and are mostly contained.

Hawaii

Several wildfires have been reported in Hawaii the week of Aug. 6. The fires were fueled by Hurricane Dora, which passed offshore but brought strong winds to Maui and Big Island all week. The winds made it challenging to fight the fires, with aircraft unable to fly to drop water.

On Aug. 8, a fire swept through Lahaina in West Maui, causing devastation and forcing people to jump into the ocean, reminiscent of the Australian bushfires of 2019-2020.

Lahaina is a tourist town, home to 12,000 people and dozens of historic buildings dating back to the 1700s, many of them made from wood. The community has been nearly completely destroyed and looks like “a war zone,” according to a helicopter pilot who flew over the area. Videos show acres of smoking, charred rubble and debris.

At least 55 people have died, and dozens are injured, as of 9:30 p.m. HST Thursday, but this could rise as inaccessible areas are reached and searched. Many of the injured people, especially those with burns, were flown to Oahu. More than 1,000 people are listed as missing, but due to power and phone challenges, they may just be out of contact. This is the deadliest U.S. fire since the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California.

The governor estimates that as many as 1,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

Communication is poor due to network disruptions, and the 911 system is down. Over 11,000 customers are without power as of Aug. 11 at 10:30 a.m. central time. Phone service will take several days or weeks to repair, making it challenging to coordinate and communicate.

Governor Josh Green estimated that the structural damage costs will be in the billions. There have already been at least 15 billion-dollar disasters in the U.S. in 2023.

Lahaina is particularly important for Hawaiians as a cultural and political center. It was the capital city from 1820 to 1945 and the royal residence of King Kamehameha III, the king who unified Hawaii. Many kings and queens are buried in the Wainee Church (Waiola). The church is 200 years old and made of stone, but it was pictured in flames this week.

Lahaina also hosts much of the economic engine of western Maui. Lahaina’s historic Front Street, home to bars, stores, restaurants and the largest banyan tree in the U.S., was ravished by fire. According to the Maui Economic Development Board, “tourism is the economic engine of Maui” with 80% of the economy (or $4 out of $5 generated) coming from tourism. Tourism makes up 75% of private sector jobs and 51% of all jobs on the island. And while service industry jobs top the list of highest annual salaries, they have also failed to keep up with rising costs of living. Additionally, tourism jobs can be unstable – as COVID-19 showed – and seasonal.

There were at least three fires on Big Island, including fires burning North Kohala and South Kohala, and the Mauna Kea beach area. At least 600 acres have burned in the Kohala Ranch Fire on the Big Island, which threatened 200 homes. As of Aug. 10, at 5:30 p.m. HST, the fires are controlled.

On Maui, in addition to the Lahaina fire there were also fires in Pulehu/Kihei and Upcountry Maui. The fire burning in Kihei reached a perimeter of about 1,000 acres. Several homes were destroyed in the Kula fire.

The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu is receiving residents and tourists who have had to evacuate. At least 11,000 tourists left on Wednesday, Aug. 9. Numerous airlines are reducing costs or eliminating change fees to assist people in leaving Maui.

According to The Guardian, “The fires in Hawaii are unlike many of those burning in the western US. They tend to break out in large grasslands on the dry sides of the islands and are generally much smaller than mainland fires. Fires were rare in Hawaii and on other tropical islands before humans arrived and ecosystems evolved without them, which means that great environmental damage can occur when fires erupt. Fires remove vegetation. When a fire is followed by heavy rainfall, the rain can carry loose soil into the ocean, where it can smother coral reefs.”

You can support CDP’s response to the wildfires by donating to our Hawaii Wildfires Recovery Fund.

Arizona

According to the Fire, Weather & Avalanche Center, there are 28 fire-related incidents active in Arizona as of Aug. 9. However, these are mostly contained and/or quite small.

California

Editor’s note: In California, we usually focus on fires that exceed 50,000 acres.

The atmospheric rivers, heavy rains, flooding and increased snowpack have reduced the severity of early fires in California this year. As of Aug. 9, California has had 4,123 wildfires, with a total of 112,964 acres burned.

There have been three firefighter fatalities and eight structures damaged, and 12 structures reported destroyed. The three firefighters died on Aug. 6 after two helicopters collided while fighting a fire in Cabazon, California. Firefighters have fully contained or controlled past fires.

You can support CDP’s response to the wildfires by donating to our California Wildfires Recovery Fund.

Montana

As of Aug. 9, the Colt Fire is burning in the Lolo and Flathead National Forests, approximately 12 miles northwest of Seeley Lake. It has reached 7,202 acres with only 45% containment. The lightning-caused fire is burning in very dense timber with lots of fuel on the ground from dead and down timber.

The Niarada Fire is burning approximately 12 miles west of Elmo, Montana. Started by lightning on July 30, the fire has grown to 20,365 acres with 25% containment as of Aug. 9. Conditions are ripe over the next few days for significant fire growth.

Oregon

The Flat Fire began on July 15 and is burning two miles southeast of Agness. On July 23, the cause of the investigation was revealed to be human-caused and stemmed from the Oak Flat Campground. The fire continues to threaten approximately nearly 150 homes and structures around the small communities of Agness and Oak Flat. As of Aug. 9, the fire had burned 33,818 acres and was 39% contained.

The Bedrock Fire is a fast-growing fire, moving uphill, in the Willamette National Forest. The fire was growing at a rate of 1,000 acres a day but has slowed down in the past week to about 500 acres daily, on average. It has reached 14,264 acres as of Aug. 9, with 5% containment. There is a lot of unusually dry fuel available, causing the rapid growth.

Washington

The Newell Road Fire only started on July 21, but by July 26, it had already burned 59,858 acres in Klickitat County. It is now 40% contained, but there is still an evacuation order in place. While 200 structures are threatened, an undetermined amount have burned.

The Eagle Bluff Fire was reported on Saturday, July 29, but by Aug. 9 had grown to 16,428 acres. Four structures have been destroyed. While the fire began just west of Oroville, Washington, it has now crossed into Canada near the town of Osoyoos. There is 80% containment, although it may not be fully extinguished for months.

Canada

Firefighters have helped in Canada from several countries, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa and Costa Rica.

On June 27, Canada surpassed the record set in 1989 for the total area burned in one wildfire season. Record heat is affecting even the typically cooler northern territories.

Currently, the CIFFC remains Preparedness Level 5, the highest level, due to continued hot, dry conditions and extreme fire activity that is being observed in many incidents across provinces and territories in Canada.

As of Aug. 9, 2023, the CIFFC has reported 5,560 fires in the year-to-date and 32.87 million acres burned. CIFFC statistics showed 1,144 active fires, with 746 out of control, 171 being held and 227 under control.

Five people have died so far this year. Four were engaged in firefighting activities, while one was a 9-year-old boy in British Columbia whose asthma was exacerbated by the smoke. On July 13, 19-year-old nursing student Devyn Gale was trapped under a tree while fighting a wildland fire in British Columbia.  Adam Yeadon, a 25-year-old firefighter in the Northwest Territories was killed fighting a small fire near Fort Liard. On July 20, a 41-year-old helicopter pilot delivering water to the fire died after his helicopter collided with the ground. On July 28, a 25-year-old firefighter from Ontario died in northern British Columbia while fighting the largest fire in the province’s history.

The Donnie Creek Blaze has burned an area larger than Prince Edward Island. It is burning on the traditional territory of the Blueberry River, Prophet River and Doig River First Nations. The fire has burned traplines, important ceremonial landmarks, massive amounts of timber, blueberries and other berries, and habitat for deer, bison and moose. This will cause significant disruptions to Indigenous communities and the lumber and milling industries. The fire has burned about 1.4 million acres or 2,200 square miles.

Alberta, Canada

In Alberta, there are 91 active fires and there have already been more than 960 fires in 2023, as of Aug. 9. Of the active fires 1.1% were out of control.

In the July 31 “Wildfires of Note” from the Government of Alberta, there were three wildfires of note, meaning a wildfire that is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety.

British Columbia, Canada

British Columbia has seen 1,746 fires in 2023, and 408 fires were active as of Aug. 9, with 200 of those considered out of control. Most of the active fires (348) were caused by lightning.

Wildfires have already burned a record amount of land (3.91 million acres) in the province, surpassing the previous record set in 2018.

Quebec, Canada

As of Aug. 9, the province had reported 651 fires to date. The ten-year average to date in Quebec is 363.

There are 52 active fires, with the smallest at just under 8 acres and the largest at 3.05 million acres.

Over 12.6 million acres of land have burned, compared to the 10-year average of 38,898 acres.

There are several areas of ongoing support that are needed in the recovery phase. These include rebuilding homes or repair of damage, debris clean-up, soil remediation, temporary housing, physical and mental health, agricultural support, and livelihood/income support.

Funders should also consider the following options to support fire-impacted communities now and to reduce the impact of future fires.

Hawaii recovery

In Hawaii, the nature of an island recovery is going to present a challenge, one exacerbated by the unique aspects of wildfire recovery. Anything brought onto an island must be shipped by air or water, increasing costs. Trash or debris may need to be shipped off the island, or space must be made on the island to store/remediate it. This can be incredibly costly and time-consuming.

After a fire that burned homes, vehicles, appliances, etc., there is a need to remediate the soil from toxins. This can take several months; it took upwards of a year after the Paradise Camp Fire in 2018.

Additionally, housing in Hawaii was already expensive and in short supply. People will need to be housed until homes are repaired, and much of that will likely need to happen off-island. The ecology of the island will also need to be considered.

Award loans and grants for rebuilding damaged homes and businesses.

In the U.S. there is currently a $2 million cap on disaster loans for businesses or private and nonprofit organizations through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. That amount may not cover what is needed, and monies allocated may be slow to arrive. Companies often hire migrant workers to work on rebuilding projects, and they do not always provide safe and adequate housing, food and other support. Make fair hiring practices a component of your grants.

Support local agencies on the ground throughout the disaster life cycle, especially those working with marginalized communities.

Those in already precarious situations — such as older adults, undocumented and mixed-status families, people with physical or mental health challenges, and people living in poverty — may find their circumstances worsened in the face of disaster. Organizations working with at-risk populations must have plans in place to mitigate the disaster’s impacts.

Fund drought mitigation efforts.

These may focus on sustainable agriculture, water conservation or land use. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, an emerging area for research is land use patterns that “maintain the integrity of watersheds and that have a smaller paved footprint result in greater resilience in the face of drought.”

Invest in public awareness and educational campaigns as well as dissemination of promising practices in wildfire and drought mitigation.

Simple efforts such as clearing flammable materials from 100 feet around the house may help prevent property damage. Fires can also be started by misuse of equipment, such as grills, that can be averted with proper knowledge.

Assist businesses in developing business continuity and disaster recovery plans to reduce economic impact.

These plans should include contingencies for displaced workers, back up of data and alternate facilities for continuing operations in the event of property damage.

Consider the needs of volunteer fire departments.

As volunteers, they often lack the structural support of larger departments, and their resources may have been depleted during the wildfire.

Support the creation of “smart growth” efforts.

Smart growth efforts and smart planning can help mitigate wildfires or prevent them altogether.

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to  tanya.gulliver-garcia@disasterphilanthropy.org.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to support recovery from this disaster, please email regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org.

Note: If you are an individual who was affected by the disaster, we encourage you to contact your local 211 to see what resources are available in your community.

Philanthropic and government support

The Lahaina fire received a FEMA Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) to assist in firefighting and response cost recovery. The Kohala Ranch Fire on the Big Island also received an FMAG from FEMA.

President Joe Biden has issued a disaster declaration for Hawaii (DR-4724). It will support loans for businesses and grants for housing and repairs.

More ways to help

As with most disasters, experts recommend cash donations. They allow on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not:Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists:Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime funding opportunities.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities within the U.S. Local community foundations also have insights into nongovernmental organizations that are best suited to respond in a particular community. 

Philanthropic support

Through funding from Google and the CDP Disaster Recovery Fund, Seeding Sovereignty received a grant of $61,065 to provide community care and relief in the wake of traumatic wildfires in the Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color populations they serve in the wake of the New Mexico wildfires.

By Chala Dandessa

I am Lecturer, Researcher and Freelancer. I am the founder and Editor at ETHIOPIANS TODAY website. If you have any comment use caalaadd2@gmail.com as email contact. Additionally you can contact us through the contact page of www.ethiopianstoday.com.

Leave a Reply