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US in Flames: Global Warming, 'Perfect Recipe for Fire'

'Red flag' warning as fire, drought persist due to extreme weather

- Common Dreams staff

The US 'wildfire season' usually doesn't start until late spring, but a recent wave of early wildfires across the US portends a long and dangerous season of fire. Sources cite the unusually warm and dry winter as the main cause, read global warming, as up to 20 states have seen unseasonal wild fires this week.

Forest fire in Bitterroot Forest, Montana, August 2000 (Photo: catherinetodd2 under a Creative Commons license from flickr.com) The US experienced the warmest March ever in the warmest start of the year ever in the warmest 12-month period ever, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The warm dry weather across the country, paired with recent wind, "is a perfect recipe for fire" in the eastern U.S., Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel told NBC News, as large fires broke out up and down the East Coast this week.

Many states are currently under a 'red flag' warning as drought persists throughout the country from most of the southwest, parts of the upper Midwest, and much of the Southeast coast. In addition "During May through July above normal temperatures are likely across most of the Southwest and Great Basin, and the Gulf and East coast states from Texas to Maine," according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

These factors will only intensify the current fire crisis experienced on the East Coast this week.

Additional, wildfires were not only threatening to rural areas, as metropolitan areas also caught fire. One fire broke out on Staten Island as did one on eastern Long Island, where New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency; three sections within a 2,000-acre (809 hectare) area went up in smoke.

Most alarming was a fire that was extinguished on the grounds of a nuclear physics facility about 70 miles from New York City, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told a news conference.

This Wednesday, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated that scientific evidence of climate change is getting more and more powerful: “Over the last couple of years, the dispassionate, hard science evidence has been mounting, increasing.”

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Current US Drought Monitor:

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MSNBC: 'Perfect recipe' for wildfires as season starts early

Twenty-five states, all east of the Rockies, posted their warmest January-March periods on record, and many Northeastern states have had their driest starts ever.

"Those two factors, and recent wind, is a perfect recipe for fire" in the eastern U.S., Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel told NBC News.

Humidity also also been low, and there's lots of fuel in the form of brush to burn.

"We haven't seen many rainstorms nor snowstorms and all the vegetation that grew up rapidly from last winter's rainfall is just all dry and ready to burn," noted meteorologist Janice Huff of New York's WNBC-TV.

On Wednesday, the immediate threat shifted west as "red flag warnings" advising of severe fire potential were posted for parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Those states have seen above average temperatures, and some are also in drought. [...]

Across the nation, the next few months do not look any better.

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Time: Why a Warm Winter Equals Early Wildfires

A wildfire inside the confines of a major city is nothing new in the U.S. It’s a little strange , though, when that city isn’t Los Angeles—constantly threatened by the dry Santa Ana winds of autumn—but rather, New York City. Yet early this week a five-alarm brushfire swept through the former Fresh Kills landfill in New York’s Staten Island, burning for more than a day. [...]

Staten Island wasn’t the only East Coast area to be hit by unusually early spring fires. Brush fires broke out in New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, while states in the southeast faced red flag warnings for fires. The reason: a record-breaking warm winter in the eastern half of the country, and an unusually dry spring. If those conditions hold, we could be in for a fiery spring and summer that will only add to high temperatures.

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Reuters: East Coast wildfires whipped up by winds

Raging wildfires fueled by strong winds scorched thousands of acres (hundreds of hectares) in New Jersey and on New York's Long Island on Tuesday as firefighters scrambled aircraft to contain the blazes.

A snowless winter and dry spring have transformed the New York City metropolitan area into a tinderbox, with recent strong winds fanning the flames, authorities said.

Wildfires were also reported in several states along the eastern seaboard.

On eastern Long Island, where New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, three sections within a 2,000-acre (809 hectare) area were burning. But a fire was extinguished on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a nuclear physics facility about 70 miles of New York City, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told a news conference.

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The Hill: Chu: Climate change evidence mounting

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday that scientific evidence of climate change is getting more and more powerful, comments that come as global warming legislation remains moribund in Congress and Environmental Protection regulations are facing ongoing GOP assaults.

“Over the last couple of years, the dispassionate, hard science evidence has been mounting, increasing,” said Chu, speaking at an energy forum hosted by The New York Times.

Chu noted that “we don’t understand everything” and that in past years scientists have actually underestimated the pace of some changes, including sea level rise.

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