delware environmental institute

News Journal: Controlled burns tamp out Delaware fire danger

It was a hot, dry summer morning. The humidity was low — about 11 percent. "We had a little bit of wind," recalled State Forester Michael Valenti. Then a passing motorist flicked a lit cigarette out of the window of a vehicle.

"It was complete consumption of all fuels," Valenti said. Before that day in April 2005 ended, 200 acres of woods near Millsboro burned to a moonscape of stubble and black. With summers expected to get hotter and drier under Climate Change scenarios, wildfires like the one Valenti described could becoming more common across the nation.

In 2014, more than 63,000 wildfires burned 3.5 million acres nationwide, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

And 2012 was the third-highest year of acres burned since the U.S. Fire Administration started keeping data in 1960. All told, 9.3 million acres burned, an area bigger than New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware combined.

You may never hear much about Delaware's wild fires. Over the last decade, they have been small and quickly contained.