Drought lingers as threat in U.S. West

Jan. 12, 2012 at 3:42 PM

VALLES CALDERA, N.M., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Conditions creating wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres of forest and woodlands in the western United States last year could continue, scientists say.

Severe, prolonged drought and soaring temperatures could threaten forests and scarce water resources, experts said, in a region that saw the worst wildfires in a century.

Last year fire burned 80,000 acres in New Mexico's Valles Caldera National Preserve, a region of high-elevation forests, abundant water sources and a rich ecosystem that scientists are now trying to restore.

"This [fire] burned 43,000 acres in 14 hours. To give you a kind of visual on that, a football field with both end zones and bench areas [burned every] 2 seconds," Bob Parmenter, chief scientist at Valles Caldera National Preserve, told the Voice of America.

Such an intense fire was caused by shorter winters with less snow pack along the Rocky Mountains, where many rivers in the American west originate, as well as longer and warmer summers with less rain, he said.

Climatologist David Brown with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says ongoing drought is putting heavy burdens on water resources.

"One of the most severe droughts in the last 100 years is playing out right now in the southwest," he said.

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