Arizona blaze part of new era _ more big wildfires

June 15, 2011 - 3:14 AM
Arizona Wildfires

Trees burn in a burnout fire as firefighters battle the Wallow Fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Ariz., Sunday, June 12, 2011. Roughly 7,000 residents of two eastern Arizona towns evacuated last week as a wildfire loomed nearby were allowed to return home Sunday as officials expressed confidence that they were making progress in their battle against the huge blaze that has been burning since May. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The fires searing parts of the West are an eerie echo of the past, a frightening reminder of a once terrible danger that had been held largely at bay for decades.

The number of large wildfires has been rising for roughly the past 25 years, and they are lasting longer during fire seasons that also last longer.

Is it global warming? Experts won't say that, pointing instead to a variety of factors, including weather, insect infestations and more people living and camping in the woods.

Officially so far this year, 31,650 wildfires have burned more than 4 million acres of land — more than twice the area of Delaware. That's up from 27,077 fires at the same time a year ago, which burned about a third as much acreage.