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The national burn rate is going up – literally

August 26, 2013

Today’s U.S. wildfires burn twice the acreage as they did the latter part of last century, threatening more homes.

A wildfire which has been buring since August 17 is now threatening Yosemite National Park. It's one of about 50 currently burning in the western United States and firefighters are focused on protecting the historic natural refuge from the fire, which is only about 7 percent contained.

It's been a bad year for wildfires, but not a unique year by any measure. Today we take a look back at one of our facts which dives into the increasing spread of large, uncontrolled blazes.

Wildfires are getting longer, fiercer, and more costly to contain. Wildfires have burned an average of 7 million U.S. acres every year since 2000. That’s equal to burning all of Yellowstone National Park three times over each year. But from 1960 to 1999, wildfires consumed half that amount – an average 3.5 million acres a year. U.S. wildfire seasons now last an average 76 days longer than in the 1970s and 1980s. Before 1986, a wildfire was contained on average in less than eight days. Since then, the average wildfire has burned for 37 days.

Today’s photo gallery includes more details. Take a look, and also see “What Do Others Say?” for ideas about what’s causing the wildfire increase and what it might mean. Then join the discussion below. What do you think it means?