Experts say 8.8 million acres destroyed by fire so far this year

PORTLAND, Ore. - Members of the Forest Service briefed Oregon's Sen. Ron Wyden on Monday about why it's been a bad fire season this year and how to prevent destructive fires like the one in September near Sisters.

So far $250 million has been spent this year fighting fires. It's been so bad the U.S. Forest Service is out of money to fight fires and is asking Congress for more of it to buy equipment and fund programs to prevent them.

Dry weather has been the primary factor in fueling the flames this season. But interestingly, while the total number of fires in the Northwest this year is lower than average, the total acreage burned is much more. Forest service experts said that fires this year destroyed 8.8 million acres, which is well above the 10-year average.

Normally, grass and brush all over the Northwest holds moisture deep down with enough rain and dew to slow down the flames. The recent run of dry weather, however, has kept firefighters on alert as fires have popped up around the region.

Over the past several weeks, firefighters said the fires have burned stronger and spread faster because the grass and brush underneath was so dry.

To help curb the threat, members of the Forest Service want more money from Congress to clear out fuels during the off-season so those large fires won't burn as strongly.

According to the experts, this year's season can't predict next year's. Even scientists who forecast fires can only do it seven to 10 days in advance.

About three quarters of the major fires this season started with lightning strikes. The rest were human caused.