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Firefighters work to stop the spread of Loma Fire off Via del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. is this picture released May 21, 2021.Mike Eliason | Santa Barbara County Fire Department | Reuters

From igniting controlled burns to removing vegetation, U.S. firefighters are undergoing massive preparations for a wildfire year they expect could be even worse than last year's record-breaking season.

Fires have arrived early this year, scorching the West as it grapples with the worst drought in the recorded history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Hot and dry early-season temperatures driven by climate change, along with a high supply of dry brush, have primed states for more severe and frequent blazes each year.

In Arizona, firefighters are already battling two massive fires fueled by hot temperatures and gusty winds. Conditions there are so dry that officials said firefighters combating the blaze accidently ignited new fires sparked by their equipment.

California, which is experiencing drought and depleted water reservoirs, also had an early start to its season. A fire in May forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in western Los Angeles. Five of the six largest fires in the state's history happened last year, burning more than 4 million acres.

"Fire season has become extended in many parts of the country to what now encompasses an entire fire year," said Bill Avey, national fire and aviation director of the USDA Forest Service.

"Managing a year-long season is increasingly challenging for the USDA and the entire wildland fire management community," Avey said.

Smoke plumes rise from a blaze as a wildfire rages on in Arizona, U.S., June 7, 2021, in this image obtained from social media.Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management | Reuters

With fire season getting longer, states are faced with the mounting challenge of adequately preparing and responding to a surge in climate-change fueled disasters every year.

California is set to have its largest firefighting force ever working on the ground this year and has already finished dozens of fuel reduction projects like controlled burns. The state's largest utility, PG&E, has also said it could shut off power more frequently this year to curb fire risk in Northern California.

And earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a record $2 billion wildfire preparedness budget and an expansion of the fleet of aircraft to fight the fires.

Since the start of January, California has responded to more than 2,875 wildfires that burned more than 16,800 acres, according to Alisha Herring, a communications representative for Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency.

"This is a significant increase in both fires and acres compared to 2020," Herring said.

A sign is posted next to an empty field on May 27, 2021 in Chowchilla, California.Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

This year, the Forest Service has 15,000 firefighters and personnel prepared to put out fires, as well as up to 34 airtankers, more than 200 helicopters and 900 engines for what they fear will be an unprecedented season, Avey said.

Last month, President Joe Biden said that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will double the funding available to help cities and states prepare for climate disasters like fires and hurricanes, from $500 million in 2020 to $1 billion this year.

But the increase in FEMA funding was less than what some disaster mitigation experts argue is needed to prepare for weather events. Last year, the U.S. had 22 disasters that totaled more than $1 billion each in record losses, according to the White House.

"Now is the time to get ready for the busiest time of the year for disasters in America," the president said following a briefing at FEMA headquarters.

Hilary Franz, Washington state's commissioner of public lands, said the state is preparing for an especially severe fire season by securing additional air resources through contracts and regional and national agreements.

Nearly 85% of wildfires result from human activity, including unattended debris fires, tossed cigarettes, power tools and arson. Threats of fire spread and destruction are also heightened as more people build in fire-prone wildland areas. Experts have urged federal officials to better manage forests and for cities or states to have building codes that require fire-resistant materials for home-building.

"The vast majority of wildfires are caused by human activity," Franz said. "The more that people practice fire safety and avoid starting outdoor fires, the better our chances of avoiding a devastating wildfire season."

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Analytics Site Predicts Yardage Increase for 5 Rams on Offense

Getty Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee are two members of the Los Angeles Rams offense predicted by one analytics site to have a yardage increase this upcoming season. The prediction was released on June 20.

The question was unveiled on social media at approximately 10 a.m. PT on Father’s Day: Do the Los Angeles Rams have a top five offense?

The Rams have a unit that sagged to No. 22 overall in 2020, plus has seen a decline in offensive productivity since head coach Sean McVay’s first season at the helm when he produced the league’s best unit.

However, analytics side Pro Football Focus had strong praise for the 2021 Rams offense. The PFF Fantasy Football Twitter account announced its projected yardage numbers for five members of the 2021 Rams offense, which predicts a yardage climb for all five.

Do the Rams have a top-5 offense? pic.twitter.com/NoHmMPVzuZ

— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 20, 2021

One likely reason for the numbers prediction: How aggressive the Rams were in free agency and the NFL Draft in making upgrades on offense. From the team swapping Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford, to adding veteran deep-threat DeSean Jackson to drafting three wide receivers (two of them, Ben Skowronek and Jacob Harris, having a tight end’s background) including spending their first selection on Tutu Atwell at No. 57, the Rams are clearly adamant about re-striking fear into the hearts of defenders when they have the football.

Now, PFF Fantasy Football is a believer that five Rams have the potential to thrive this season.

Stafford’s 2021 Prediction by PFF

One takeaway in the PFF fantasy projections: Stafford’s predicted passing yardage.

The analytics site believes the 13-year veteran will throw for 4,538 yards in his first season with McVay and the Rams. If this projection becomes accurate by regular season’s end, it’ll mark the ninth time in Stafford’s career that he’ll throw for more than 4,000 yards but his most since the 2017 season when he racked up 4,446 aerial yards.

Before his L.A. arrival, there was a time when Stafford was putting up consistent 4,000-yard seasons with the Detroit Lions. From 2011 to 2017, Stafford had one of the greatest yardage stretches in recent memory: Throwing between 4,262 yards to 5,038 during that span. And his latter number in the 2011 season started the streak of throwing excellence for the quarterback.

Stafford, however, has since struggled to top the 4K mark. He left the Motor City with one more 4,000-yard campaign in a span of three seasons: 4,084 yards during the Lions’ 5-11 record in 2020. But the change of scenery and new weaponry around him points to Stafford putting up higher numbers this time. Ian Hartitz of PFF dove into Stafford’s fantasy outlook in a June 5 video seen below.



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Fantasy Files: Matthew Stafford and the Rams sure look good on paper | PFFHost Ian Hartitz breaks down Matthew Stafford's fantasy outlook ahead of the 2021 season. Ian starts things off by noting that Stafford's lack of success in the win column with the Lions wasn't exactly on him. 2019 and 2020 in particular demonstrated Stafford's upside with an offensive coordinator more willing to feature his bazooka of…2021-06-05T15:43:11Z Second-year RB Among Those Predicted to Have a Numbers Spike

Stafford isn’t the only one expected to do damage in the Rams’ offense. Second-year running back Cam Akers is anticipated to carry the potential he displayed from last season into 2021.

Akers, who combined for 748 total yards in his NFL debut last year, is predicted to collect 1,377 yards as a running/receiving threat this upcoming year. McVay told reporters on June 4 that he likes the improving work ethic of Akers.

Tight end Tyler Higbee is another penciled in to see a stats increase. PFF lists him as having a 660-yard receiving year, which would be his most since 2019 when he finished with 734 yards. Pro Football Focus has given praise to the 6-foot-6 Higbee before, listing him as the 18th best TE for the 2021 season in a May 19 article.

Lastly, the wide receiving duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are anticipated to see an increase in yardage in the upcoming 17-game season. Woods is projected to finish with 962 receiving yards, which would be 26 yards more than his 2020 mark. Kupp is picked by PFF to have his second-career 1,000-yard season with a projection of 1,066 yards, which would represent a 92-yard elevation from last season.

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