After a brief respite from wildfire activity earlier this month, new grassland fires have broken out across the state and more than doubled the total acreage burned. Although those fires have been confined to eastern and central Washington, the latest weather forecast suggests that the westside may experience its share of wildfires in the coming months.
The Cold Creek Fire near Rattlesnake Mountain roughly 30 miles outside the city of Yakima started on July 18 and quickly burned 42,000 acres of grassland before it was fully contained; the fire marks the largest so far this year. In early July, only 28,115 total acres had burned in all jurisdictions.
The second largest wildfire so far is the 243 Command Fire that started in early June and burned 20,000 acres. In Grant County the Powerline Fire started July 14 and burned 8,000 acres, prompting Level 3 evacuation notices that warned nearby residents to leave immediately.
Aside from the Cold Creek Fire, there are two other active wildfires. According to the DNR, the Juniper Fire east of Goldendale in Klickitat County has almost been put out after burning an estimated 300 acres of grassland and threatening four residences. Despite the increased wildfire activity, the Washington Smoke Blog reports that these have not adversely impacted air quality. Last year, wildfire smoke contributed to unhealthy air conditions throughout the entire state.
The Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center’s monthly forecast update on July 19 shows that much of Washington continues to suffer from moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions. The forecast also anticipates above normal wildfire potential for all western Washington and parts of central Washington in August and September, while the remainder of central and eastern Washington are expected to have normal conditions.
State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Spokesperson Joe Smillie told Lens that the agency is already planning for increased wildfire activity on the westside later this season. “When we look at the westside, they get much bigger because of the forest density. It just grows so thick (that) if the conditions are right, they get going faster and more intense. Southwest Washington is where we’ve seen a lot of them.”
Also contributing to greater fire intensity are larger loads of thick forest fuels which take longer to dry out than grassland terrain but are also unaffected by moisture and precipitation that can reduce fire conditions, Smillie added. “When we have that little rain, that will stop the finer fuels from catching which is usually what spreads and lets the larger fuels burn.”