It was scary. But it was only the beginning. The 2000 U.S. fire season turned out to be the worst in half a centurypartly a result of warm and dry conditions accompanying the weather pattern La Niña. By late August, 4.9 million acres (2 million hectares) had burned nationwide, more than double the ten-year average. Federal troops had joined thousands of firefighters battling flames in 11 western states in an outbreak that wasnt expected to end until the first snows of winter.
Wildfires are among natures most feared manifestations, especially for the growing number of people choosing to live in forested areas. Fueled by thick, dried-out underbrush and driven by wind, giant curtains of flame can leap across acres of land in minutes, leaving only charred rubble where there once were homes and human dreams.