The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources/Kari Greer

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources/Kari Greer

Western Washington faces elevated wildfire risk in 2019

Humans cause majority of fires in state

Fire authorities are gearing up for another long fire season in the Pacific Northwest after predictions were released earlier this week.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) released its April through July fire predictions for the country, and the report shows that Western Washington will be more prone to fires than usual over the coming months. While Western Washington, including Puget Sound, will have a higher risk of fires, much of the risk in Eastern Washington remains average. This is expected to change in the northern areas of the state along the Canadian border in June and July in areas of the state that have been decimated by wildfires in recent years.

“We’re probably in for a long fire season. We really hope we’re wrong, but probably aren’t with some of these predictions going on, but we want people to report any fire they see to 911,” said Janet Pearce, communications manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. “We’d rather have a false alarm than a large wildfire that no one called in.”

This year has already seen 51 fires in March alone, with 49 of them happening west of the Cascades in southwest Washington, primarily in Cowlitz and Lewis counties and along the Columbia River. Some 90 residents in Cowlitz County were evacuated and around 272 acres were burned in the historically fire-resistant west side. These fires were caused mainly by people burning yard waste, and fires are expected to continue to start on the west side.

Precipitation was generally above average across most western U.S. states. As the spring greening begins in April, mountain snowpack will begin to melt, and snowpack melt rates are more important than snowpack levels in figuring out potential fire season activity, the NIFC report said. If snow melts at normal or slower than average rates, it can postpone fire season, whereas faster melts generally lead to forests at higher elevations catching fire sooner. In lower elevations, lots of winter and spring moisture will likely mean more grass, which will become fire-ready across the western states between May and July.

Carol Connolly with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center agreed that Western Washington faces a higher than normal wildfire risk that will increase as more people do things like burn yard waste.

“One of the things that we are asking folks within April and May and beyond is to exercise that extreme caution in those areas,” Connolly said.

Calling local fire departments for conditions or restrictions before burning can help prevent fires. Human-caused fires have been a main cause of wildfires in recent years. In Washington state last year, there were 1,744 fires that affected nearly 439,000 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Of those, 1,457 were human-caused, accounting for nearly 280,000 of the acres that burned.

While the fire risk for much of Eastern Washington is average, there could still be large fires.

“What is normal? Normal’s changed over the last couple years,” Connolly said.

This year’s fire season could look similar to others in recent years, which have been growing more intense for a number of reasons. One of these is rapidly dying forests across the state. In previous coverage, DNR commissioner Hilary Franz said some 2.7 million acres of diseased and dying forestland in the state provided perfect conditions for wildfires. This is largely due to disease and pests, which take advantage of trees stressed by a lack of water. The DNR is asking the state Legislature for a historic $55 million for wildfire response and forest health management, which would include treating forests to better withstand fires and nearly doubling the amount of full-time firefighters employed by the department.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Northwest

File photo
State Supreme Court strikes down $30 car-tab initiative

Justices unanimously agreed that voter-approved Initiative 976 is unconstitutional.

Courtesy Photo, King County
King County Council approves funding for affordable housing

Small increase in sales tax to support program

Hilary Franz (left) and Sue Kuehl Pederson
Wildfires, forest health are key issues in race to lead DNR

Republican Sue Kuehl Pederson is challenging incumbent Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

power grid electricity power lines blackouts PG&E (Shutterstock)
State extends moratorium on some electric, gas shutoffs

Investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in WA can’t disconnect customers through April.

A Sept. 10 satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
University of Washington professors talk climate change, U.S.-China relations

Downside for climate policy supporters is it can risk alienating moderate or right-leaning voters.

Gov. Jay Inslee. FILE/Screenshot
Inslee criticizes Trump’s comments about having COVID-19

‘More than 2,000 additional Americans have died and downplaying this danger is the best he can do?’

Stock photo
K–12 state internet access program allows more students to learn from home

Students from low-income families can connect online at no cost to them

The nose of the 500th 787 Dreamliner at the assembly plant in Everett on Sept. 21, 2016. (Kevin Clark / Herald, file)
Report: Boeing will end 787 Dreamliner production in Everett

Boeing declined comment on a Wall Street Journal story saying the passenger jet’s assembly will move to South Carolina.

A multifamily housing development. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
New toolkit will help King County cities develop customized climate strategies

A way to mobilizing the region’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Stock photo
State health experts: Flu vaccine should be considered ‘essential’ this year

Presence of COVID-19, flu viruses could put more people in the hospital

King County Metro bus fares resume Oct. 1

Fares were suspended in March due to COVID-19