TIJERAS, N.M. (AP) – The chief of the U.S. Forest Service says he expects this year’s fire season to be as active as last year, when historic fires charred hundreds of square miles in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and elsewhere.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell says the Southwest remains dry and the middle part of the country could have a more severe season this year.

Tidwell says federal scientists are monitoring weather patterns and trying to make accurate predictions so resources can be placed in the areas where they’ll be needed most.

Tidwell joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other officials for a conference call Thursday to address the nation’s preparedness.

Vilsack says the agencies are taking their responsibility seriously given that lives and property are at stake.

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