Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.

Siegler grew up near Missoula, MT, and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado.  He’s an avid skier and traveler in his spare time.

Just after dawn, on a rutted out dirt road west of Las Vegas, Nev., Bureau of Land Management Ranger Shane Nalen steers his four by four over a small hill.

"You never know what you're going to roll up on out here," he says, his dispatch radio squawking in the background.

A panoramic view of the rugged Nevada desert unfolds. But there's also something peculiar. The desert carpet is lit up with reflecting lights shimmering in the soft morning sun.

When 2 feet of rain fell, and the Vermillion River swelled its banks earlier this month, the mayor of Maurice, La., Wayne Theriot, got hit with a double whammy: He lost his home and his office. The two are just a couple of hundred yards apart in this small town of about 1,000 people that straddles Vermillion and Lafayette parishes in a largely rural corner of the state.

"You're in City Hall — what's left of it," he says, pointing to the ruined furniture and computers in the tiny three-room building.

When a fast-moving, erratic wildfire ignites, firefighters right away try to save homes and steer the flames away from life and property. But experts say the real danger often occurs in the hours after the big wall of flames rips through.

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Stanton Gleave hardly fits the stereotype of a modest, keep-to-himself Western rancher.

Standing in a collection of muddy pens taking a break from shearing sheep near his home in tiny Kingston, Utah, Gleave gives an earful about his frustrations with the Bureau of Land Management and environmental groups.

"That's who we're actually fighting with," says Gleave. "They've indoctrinated and got into this BLM and Forest Service 'til a lot of 'em are right up in the head positions now."

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Big Trees Lodge.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park could be forgiven for not recognizing those hostelries' names.

They used to be called — and were famously known as — the Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels.

"It's just really surreal," said Monica Hubert, a former manager of the Wawona. "I mean, it's a National Historic Landmark."

The hotels and other Yosemite landmarks have been renamed because of a contract dispute.

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The defiant leader of the anti-federal lands movement, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is now facing multiple felony charges — including conspiracy and assault on a federal officer — in the 2014 standoff at his Nevada ranch.

Bundy, who inspired the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was arrested at the airport in Portland, Ore., Wednesday night, apparently on his way to Malheur.

In a 32-page criminal complaint, prosecutors allege Bundy and his co-conspirators led a massive, armed assault against federal officers in April 2014 near the town of Bunkerville, Nev.

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Schools tend to be the center of the community in small towns across America. That's probably never been more the case for Middletown, Calif., than right now.

Last month, when a wildfire destroyed more than half of the town in the mountains north of San Francisco, the schools were miraculously spared. They've since reopened and are offering a respite from the sad, day-to-day struggles many students and staff are facing.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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This has been one of the worst — and most expensive — wildfire seasons ever in the Northwest, where climate change and a history of suppressing wildfires have created a dangerous buildup of fuels.

With fires burning hotter and more intense, there are renewed calls to change how the federal government pays to fight the biggest fires.

"These large and intense fires are a natural disaster in much the same way a hurricane or a tornado or a flood is," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. "And they ought to be funded as such through the emergency funding of FEMA."

The iconic forests of the Pacific Northwest — with their towering, moss-covered fir and pine trees — have never been this dry. The grass underneath the ferns has already turned gold.

Of the five large wildfires burning in Washington alone right now, one has scorched more than 1,500 acres of a rainforest on the typically misty Olympic Peninsula.

The wildfire threat in the drought-stricken Pacific Northwest right now is extraordinary, and there are concerns that the region may not be prepared for a long summer.

A Wake-Up Call

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