Dry conditions throughout North Carolina mean the state could be facing another dangerous wildfire season in the coming weeks. This comes only three years after devastating forest fires in the mountains burned almost 60,000 acres of land in 2016.
The wildfire numbers for September 2019 came in significantly higher than the 10-year averages for the same month. Last month, North Carolina had 367 wildfires that burned a combined 585 acres; the average of the previous ten Septembers is 164 fires and 457 acres. Worth noting, however, is that the 10-year average is heavily skewed by an outlier from 2010 when September was an especially bad month for fires. This September was second only to 2010 in both measures.
Still, none of this compares to October and November of 2016, when 10.2 thousand and 48.5 thousand acres were burned, respectively. With that disaster still so fresh in the state’s history, and this year’s similarly dry conditions, the N.C. Forest Service is urging people to take every precaution to prevent wildfires.
In 2017, forests covered around 60 percent of the state’s land area. Approximately 18 percent of the forests are publicly owned by the federal, state, or local governments.
The looming wildfire threat raises critical questions about what North Carolina has done over the past three years to prevent future forest fires from burning out of control to the 2016 levels. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it is worth asking. Are public forests in the state being managed better now than they were in 2016, and are we better prepared to contain fires today than we were then?