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Wildfires spread across West, including one so large it can be seen from space

An image taken Sunday by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite shows the Nevada wildfire, known as the Martin Fire, in red, with its smoke reaching to Idaho. The fire is more than half the size of Rhode Island.
An image taken Sunday by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite shows the Nevada wildfire, known as the Martin Fire, in red, with its smoke reaching to Idaho. The fire is more than half the size of Rhode Island.(NASA via AP)

Once again, the media is coming alive with dramatic pictures of raging wildfires breaking out in the West. NASA even got into the act this week when a blaze in Nevada generated so much heat and smoke it was visible from space.

The National Interagency Fire Center said that 55 large fires are burning in 12 mostly Western states, where 1,130,233 acres have burned.

More than 14,200 firefighters and support personnel are assigned to wildland fires across the country, along with hundreds of fire engines and scores of helicopters and other aircraft, according to the center.

So far this year 31,991 fires have burned a total of 3,361,715 acres across the country, according to the center.

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The average number of fires year-to-date from 2008 to 2017 is 34,371, with 2,834,688 acres burned, the center said. (The total acreage burned was greater in 2017, 2015, and 2011.)

“We’re not having as many fires, but the fires we are getting are becoming larger,” said fire center spokeswoman Robyn Broyles.

It’s all part of the country’s annual battle against such blazes, said Broyles. She noted that the acreage burned statistic is not the sole indicator of how bad a fire season is because some fires never threaten homes or lives — and they actually benefit the environment.

“We do our utmost to put out the fires as quickly as we can that are a threat to our communities,” she said. “There are other places where we work hard to allow fire to play its natural role in our environment.”

The Nevada fire, which was more than half the size of the state of Rhode Island, was the largest wildfire burning in the United States. But no injuries or damaged structures have been reported in the remote area where it has struck.

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The fire “made another run yesterday, but fire behavior on many other wildfires moderated and allowed firefighters to make progress toward containment goals,” the center said Wednesday on its website.

Broyles said the current national wildfire preparedness level is at 3, which is the middle of five levels. “In previous years, we’ve been at higher preparedness levels at this time,” she said.

She said that, while wildland firefighting activity is generally greatest from June to August, different regions have different seasons.

“There’s always fires burning somewhere,” she said. “Each place has their own season because that’s when their vegetation naturally dries out and is ready to burn.”

She noted that more acres had burned in the spring in Oklahoma than any other state so far after a “very active spring season.”

Fires in the Southwest, in New Mexico and Arizona, are continuing, she said, though the moisture from the summer monsoon is beginning to help, so resources are being shifted north to Colorado and the giant fire in Nevada.

Fire activity is expected to pick up later in states such as California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho.

“That’s just the natural progression,” she said.

California has already seen some devastating fires, but it’s not as bad as last year when thousands of homes were destroyed, she said.

A relatively small wildfire burns about two dozen acres on the hills surrounding the famous Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
A relatively small wildfire burns about two dozen acres on the hills surrounding the famous Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Tuesday.(Brooke Clements via AP)
A Chinook helicopter made a water drop on Sunday near La Veta, Colorado.
A Chinook helicopter made a water drop on Sunday near La Veta, Colorado.(Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/AP)
Firefighters doused flames at a home in Goleta, California on Friday.
Firefighters doused flames at a home in Goleta, California on Friday. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP))

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.