This year’s wildfire season is proving to be one of the mildest in the past decade, though weather forecasted for the next week could quickly change the situation in certain areas of the state. A state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) weather report shows northeast Washington is at extreme fire risk due to hot temperatures and lighting strikes. In response to the heightened fire risk, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz issued a burn ban effective July 28.
“It’s a perfect storm for fire conditions,” DNR Communications Director Bobbi Cussins said. “We’re at that point where we’re asking for the public’s help.”
According to a DNR report, the agency so far has responded to 525 wildfires that have burned just 1,465 acres. However, that figure doesn’t include ongoing wildfires that have well surpassed that number and for the first time this year require a major state mobilization. The Colockum Fire near Malaga has burned more than 3,000 acres and the Greenhouse Fire near Nespelem has burned 5,200 acres.
But even with those wildfires and others included, the total combined figure still pales compared to the same time frames in the past two years. In 2018, 616 wildfires had burned 25,769 acres of land by early July. By late July last year, 566 wildfires burned 28,115 acres. Last year was also the mildest season since 2013.
DNR Spokesperson Thomas Kyle-Milward told Lens that although a severe season was expected in the long-term forecast, June proved to be relatively calm, with only 170 acres burned. “Obviously, this past weekend we had pretty brutal conditions. We’re in a sort of in-between stage.”
However, late July and early August represents a critical part of the wildfire season when the weather often determines how severe or mild conditions will be in the coming months. According to the latest DNR fuels report, the weather is among the main elements that “provide the vast majority of the variability in fire activity that may be seen.” In eastern Washington, “high intensity, fast moving fires are possible with wind or steep slopes. Fuel conditions are doing very little to moderate fire activity anymore.”
State Meteorologist Josh Clark said in a July 27 video: “we could see rapid growth on any new ignitions or increased growth on any fires that currently exist. We are at that seasonal minimum where we see the moisture content of our vegetation at its lowest that we’ll see all year, so everything is primed and ready to burn.”
Washington State Forester George Geissler said in a statement that “we are entering a critical period for our firefighters with temperatures rising and rapidly drying fuels on the ground. We’ll continue to respond with our air and ground assets as needed, but we hope the public will take the burn ban seriously.”