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Wet spring reduces wildfire risk in most of US for June

By DAN ELLIOTT
Associated Press

DENVER (AP) - An unusually wet May reduced the likelihood of wildfires during June over much of the nation, but the danger will increase from July through September, the National Interagency Fire Center said in its latest outlook report.

The risk is below normal in a vast area of the central and Southern U.S. in June, but above normal in drought-stricken California, according to June 1 report.

Hawaii and parts of the Southwest and Alaska are also at above-normal risk.

As the summer progresses, fire danger is expected to increase across the country, especially in the Northwest, Georgia and the Carolinas. Above-normal temperatures are forecast for most of the West and the Atlantic coast.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will discuss wildfire threats and the nationwide outlook for the wildfire season Tuesday in Denver.

They'll also discuss a proposal by Obama to change the way wildfire-fighting is funded to ease the strain on the U.S. Forest Service budget.

The worst 1 percent of wildfires eat up about 30 percent of the Forest Service's firefighting budget, they said.

Obama wants to treat the cost of catastrophic fires like other natural disasters, taking money from an existing federal disaster relief fund so the Forest Service doesn't have to tap into other funds designed to improve forest health and reduce future fires.

The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Department.

In a report released in August, the Agriculture Department said staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998 but the number of workers who manage National Forest lands has dropped by about a third.

When the report was made public, Vilsack said rising firefighting costs cut into programs to restore vegetation and watersheds after fires. Programs that help states and private landowners conserve wildlife habitat and maintenance of recreational sites has also suffered, Vilsack said.

Vilsack and Jewell have warned that catastrophic wildfires pose a worsening danger, especially in the West.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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