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Drought Spreads as Wildfires Expand

posted on August 23, 2013

Earlier this month USDA released its best guess on the size of the 2013 harvest. While the numbers were lower than the June report, if realized, the corn harvest will hit an all-time high and the soybean harvest will take second place in the record books. Crop scouts have been touring the country this week to get an up close and personal view of how things are shaping up.

But the fear of a drought striking the crop in its remaining weeks continues to haunt farmers across the country. Dry conditions in western states have fostered numerous forest fires. This week, the Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho reports the major fires burning in 9 of the lower 48 states have consumed nearly 1 million acres.

Drought Spreads as Wildfires Expand

Western wildfires continue to make the summer of 2013 a dynamic and expensive one.

Nationally, there are 50 active wildfires being battled.

The wildfire preparedness level in Idaho is at a five-year high. More than 12-hundred homes remain empty because the Beaver Creek fire continues to burn near the resort area of Ketchum.

(Firefighter/No Name Available): “We have super support from the ski area. They have some very high-capacity pumps at the top of the ski area. So we're protecting the power supply for those pumps because if the fire does approach there, we're going to be relying on those.”

Temporary “pop-up” cities have been built to support those battling the flames. More than 17-hundred people have been assigned to fight the wildfire.

Ludie Bond, Fire Service Spokeswoman: "We refer to this as Main Street. This is where all the action happens and it's truly an office situation with documentation and finance everything that goes into communications and radios."

And ground crews are getting assistance from the air.

Farther west, another fire near Yosemite National Park is threatening 2,000 structures.

Across California, 7,000 firefighters are battling fires that have already burned 100,000 acres.

As those uncontained fires still burn, the price tag spent by federal agencies already has topped the one-billion dollar mark. The U.S. Forest Service is diverting money from other programs to help pay for crews as forest fire season hits its peak.

Much of the western United States is still locked in drought. The area of dry conditions is now shifting back into areas impacted last year, mostly in the Corn Belt. This week’s Drought Monitor reveals nearly 60 percent of the contiguous U.S. is in some form of drought. That’s up two points over last week, but still well off last year’s mark of 77 percent.

Some of the biggest increases in the dry conditions were seen in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and now into Indiana. Crops that started the year in wet conditions, have now gone to the other extreme. Stress is visible in the crop and water sources are  drying up.

The same area was observed as part of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. The annual event took place this week as scouts looked at corn and soybean fields and results closely resemble USDA estimates.

Tags: California fire Idaho Ketchum news U.S. Forest Service wildfires Yosemite National Park