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As Independence Day nears, federal forecasters warn of more active wildfire season

 Blue and White fireworks explode in the night sky above a small crowd of people.
Murphy Woodhouse
Mountain West News Bureau
4th of July, 2023 in Bosie

More wildfires are started in the United States on the 4th of July than any other day of the year. And this year, the national holiday comes on the heels of a federal wildfire outlook that paints a troubling picture for much of the West.

Through the end of September, vast swaths of the American West are expected to have above average potential for wildfires. That includes large portions of Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon, according to the latest season outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise.

A map displaying the risk of increased wildfire potential across the country in July 2024. Much of West and parts of the East will see heightened reisk,
A map of wildfire potential for July 2024

“In comparison to the outlook issued a month ago, more and larger areas are expected to experience above normal significant fire potential starting in July,” it reads.

NIFC meteorologist Jim Wallmann chalks the heightened risk in the West up to two wet winters and the significant grass growth they brought.

“When it dries out – as it typically does over the summer, and it's done a little bit earlier this year due to the hot temperatures – it makes a really good recipe for active fires,” he said.

Wallmann has some straightforward advice for anyone planning on using fireworks: don’t use them in the wildlands or in urban areas near them.

“If you're going to use them, be smart about it,” he said. “I mean, that's really the bottom line.”

2023 was the lightest U.S. wildfire season in a quarter century. Wallmann anticipates a more active season this year, but nothing like the epic summer of 2020 when more than 10 million acres burned.

“We're expecting something in between, so a busy season,” he said. “But nothing exceptional.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.