Wildfires - May 2012


Updated: 7 June 2012


Overview

During May, wildfire activity across the U.S. was below average, although warm and dry conditions occurred across a large portion of the country. The 337,182 acres which burned in May was slightly below average, and the 4,435 fires was the least amount on record for the month. Despite the slow wildfire activity, several large wildfires had significant impacts in Arizona, New Mexico, and Michigan.

1-Month Wildfire Statistics*
May Totals Rank
(out of 13 years)
Record 2000-2010
Average
Value Year
Acres Burned 337,182 6ᵗʰ Most 1,069,997 2011 340,608
8ᵗʰ Least
Number of Fires 4,435 13ᵗʰ Most 18,469 2001 9,509
Least on Record
Acres Burned per Fire 76.0 3ʳᵈ Most 161.5 2011 37.2
11ᵗʰ Least
3-Month Wildfire Statistics*
March–May Totals Rank
(out of 13 years)
Record 2000-2010
Average
Value Year
Acres Burned 618,015 9ᵗʰ Most 3,246,509 2011 924,820
5ᵗʰ Least
Number of Fires 17,295 13ᵗʰ Most 35,909 2006 26,835
Least on Record
Acres Burned per Fire 35.7 7ᵗʰ Most 161.5 2011 33.3
7ᵗʰ Least
Year-to-Date Wildfire Statistics*
January–May Totals Rank
(out of 13 years)
Record 2000-2010
Average
Value Year
Acres Burned 710,661 9ᵗʰ Most 3,450,882 2011 1,059,751
5ᵗʰ Least
Number of Fires 22,292 12ᵗʰ Most 41,845 2006 32,407
2ⁿᵈ Least
Acres Burned per Fire 31.9 7ᵗʰ Most 115.6 2011 31.5
7ᵗʰ Least

*Data Source: The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

Discussion

As a whole, the contiguous U.S. had its 2nd warmest May on record, with warmer-than-average conditions engulfing the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. and the Southwest. Only the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies had near-average temperatures. Precipitation totals were mixed during May, with the Eastern Seaboard and the Upper Midwest being wetter than average. Dry conditions were present from the Southwest, stretching into the Central Plains, and into the Mid-South. Please see the U.S. temperature and precipitation report for additional information. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the percent area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing Moderate-to-Exceptional (D1-D4) drought shrank slightly from 38.18 percent to 37.37 percent during May. Drought conditions improved for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where several storm systems brought beneficial rainfall. Drought improved by one to two categories across the Southeast, where Tropical Storm Beryl brought beneficial rainfall to northern Florida and southern Georgia. Drought developed across the Mid-South, but conditions improved across the Upper Midwest. Rainfall across western Texas and eastern New Mexico nearly eradicated the ongoing Exceptional Drought in the Southern Plains. Drought conditions persisted and worsened slightly across much of the Southwest and central Rockies.

Significant Events


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan experienced an usually warm and dry spring, on the heels of a relatively dry winter, creating ideal wildfire conditions. The Pine Creek Fire and the Duck Lake Fire were ignited by a lightning strike on May 20th. and both quickly grew out of control due to strong winds. The fires were fully contained by the end of May, but after charring over 3,400 acres. The largest impact of the fires was the diminished air quality across the Upper Peninsula, as well as southern Ontario.

Two large wildfires burned in Arizona during the middle of May, in the mountains north of Phoenix. The Gladiator Fire began on May 13th by a structural fire on private property, and by May 16th had prompted an evacuation order for the historic mining community of Crown King. By the end of May, the fire had charred over 16,200 acres and was only 45 percent contained. The Sunflower Fire was ignited on May 12th from unknown causes and by the end of May had burned over 17,600 acres and was 80 percent contained. The Sunflower Fire was burning in a rural area and posed no threat to any communities.

Two large wildfires which began in mid-May in New Mexico, the Baldy Fire and the White Water Fire, merged to create the Whitewater-Baldy Fire complex. Both fires were ignited by lightning strikes in the very dry Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. By June 1st, the complex burned over 216,650 acres and was only ten percent contained, with very high growth potential. The amount of smoke from the fire was unusually high due to the dense coniferous forests which were impacted, causing very low air quality conditions across a large area of western New Mexico. The fire surpassed the Las Conchas Fire of 2011, which destroyed over 156,500 acres, as the largest fire in New Mexico history.

Monthly Wildfire Conditions

Wildfire information and environmental conditions are provided by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS).

At the beginning of May, there were seven large wildfires burning across the nation. Two fires were active in Florida, where ongoing drought conditions contributed to high KBDI values. One fire was active in eastern Texas, which was experiencing low 10-hour fuel moistures. Four fires were burning in the west, one in west Texas, two in Arizona, and one in Nevada, where dry conditions the previous month during April led to high fire danger, low 10-hour, 100-hour, and 1,000-hour fuel moistures, as well as very high KBDI values.

On May 31st, there were nine large wildfires burning nationwide. Six large wildfires were active across the Southwest in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, where drought conditions persisted or worsened for many locations during the month. Low 10-hour, 100-hour, and 1,000-hour fuel moistures as well as very high KBDI values and high fire danger were observed across the region. Two large fires were active across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, associated with the Pine Creek Fire complex, where low 10-hour fuel moistures were present. One additional fire was burning in southern Florida, where relatively high KBDI values were observed.


All Fire Related Maps


Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Wildfires for May 2012, published online June 2012, retrieved on July 30, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/2012/5.