Tall flames rise behind a firefighting inmate hand crew member near San Andreas, California, 13 September 2015. Photo: David McNew / Getty Images

By Doyle Rice
25 September 2015

(USA TODAY) – The amount of land burned by wildfires in the U.S. this year has surpassed 9 million acres, according to data released Thursday by the National Interagency Fire Center.

This is only the fourth time on record the country has reached the 9 million-acre mark, center spokesman Randall Eardley said in an e-mail. The area burned is roughly equivalent to the size of New Jersey and Connecticut combined.

All of the top years for acres burned have occurred since 2000, Eardley said. The worst year occurred in 2006, with 9.8 million acres. In 2007 and 2012, 9.3 million acres were burned, he said. If another 800,000 acres are burned this year, an all-time record would be set.

Accurate wildfire records go back to 1960. Prior to 2000, the U.S. surpassed 7 million acres only one time — in 1963. "The year 2000 seems to have been a turning point in the number of acres we've seen burned," Eardley said.

This year's fire season has been unusually severe in the Northwest. Wildfires there destroyed dozens of homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate, sometimes for weeks on end.

The season also included the largest fire in the history of Washington state, the Okanogan Complex fire, which killed three firefighters. Devastating fires in California have killed at least 7 people this month, CalFire, the state firefighting agency, reported.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack have called the 2015 fire season a disaster for the number of firefighter lives lost as well as destroyed homes and natural resources.

The report about the 9 million-acre mark comes as competing forest management bills make their way through Congress and firefighting costs approach an all-time high. [more]

Nation nears wildfire record with more than 9 million acres burned

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