Photo by David Geitgey Sierralupe/Flickr

Photo by David Geitgey Sierralupe/Flickr

Western Washington Could See More Wildfires This Year

Lots of grass and warmer weather could make for worsening fire seasons.

Another smokey summer may be coming with fire risks in many parts of the state above average.

The National Interagency Fire Center releases an annual fire prediction summary that provides a seasonal fire outlook for the United States. August is peak wildfire season in the West and a large amount of plant fuels surviving from last year, coupled with average grass growth this year, creates a higher-than-normal fire danger during the late summer. Generally rain and cooling temperatures in mid-September bring fire season to an end.

Washington state Department of Natural Resources commissioner Hilary Franz posted a video on her Facebook page with assistant fire operations manager Aaron Schmidt on June 5 providing additional seasonal projections. There have already been significant wildfires in the state this year, especially in southwest Washington, an area that has generally avoided fires in the past. This May was the warmest on record.

“Historically, Western Washington has had really benign fire activity, in the last five years that’s been a categorical shift,” Schmidt said.

Three helicopters are being positioned west of the Cascades this year for the first time. Last year, there were roughly 10 large fires across the state costing $140 million to fight. Fire seasons have grown more intense, especially from 2014-16, with 2015 being a particularly dangerous year. Still, by the end of last year’s fire season, the region experienced more than 3,400 fires that burned more than 1.1 million acres in the Pacific Northwest during 2017.

“Fires are getting more complex and they’re getting more difficult and more resistant to control,” Schmidt said.

One of the most noticeable wildfire effects in Puget Sound is a layer of smoke in the air, which can be dangerous for residents. Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants.

The size of the particles changes how dangerous they are, with larger particles acting as irritants and smaller particles working their way deep into the lungs. Smoke can worsen symptoms for people with heart or lung health conditions and smoke masks rated for N95 or better should be used as protection.

Humans cause around 75 percent of wildfires while lightning causes the rest. Franz urged caution when engaging in activities ranging from barbecuing to driving motorbikes — all of which could spark a fire. Five Eastern Washington counties are already experiencing high fire risks and another two are ranked by Natural Resources as at moderate risk.

While camping, fires are allowed only in areas without a burn restriction, in approved fire pits and shovels and a bucket of water should be kept nearby. Never walk away form a smoldering campfire.

A version of this story first appeared in the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter.

More in News & Comment

Hundreds of teachers rally outside of John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence to ask for raises in the upcoming contract with Seattle Public Schools. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Is a Strike Looming at Seattle Public Schools?

Some educators say they’re ready to stall negotiations to demand competitive wages.

Race For King County Prosecutor Heats Up at Seattle Forum

Former public defender Daron Morris slams incumbent Dan Satterberg for the use of bail in the county justice system

Democratic Socialist to Run Against Rep. Adam Smith in Nov. Election

After coming up short in early results for Aug. 7 primary, Sarah Smith moves into second place

Sparks Continue to Fly Over Safeco Field Maintenance Funding

PFD board member argues that $180 million in public money for stadium upkeep lets Mariners off the hook.

Photo courtesy of The Herald
Death Watch For Killer Whales?

Grieving mother orca shines a spotlight on a serious ecological issue.

Photo by Josh Kelety
City Council Passes Temporary Historic Protection for The Showbox

With a lively crowd on hand, the Council unanimously voted to delay any demolition of the venue by 10 months.

Carmen Best was confirmed as the Seattle Police Chief on Aug. 13. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department.
There’s a New Police Chief In Town

Seattle City Council Confirms Carmen Best as the Chief of the Seattle Police Department

The Roundup: White supremacy, teacher salaries and a homemade bomb

• Over 100 people rallied outside the Crossroads Bellevue shopping center on… Continue reading

Developmental Disabilities Administration employees take a break during the workday to advocate for higher pay and affordable health insurance on August 9, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
State Employees Can’t Afford Seattle

As the cost of living booms, case managers in contract negotiations cite low wages for high turnover rates.

Most Read