Washington officials are anticipating severe conditions prompting more wildfires this week as temperatures spike and the state dries out.
“We are already in conditions similar to July for average for this time of year,” said Wildfire Fuels Specialist Vaughn Cork. “This hot and dry weather isn’t going to help any of that.”
Cork is with the Department of Natural Resources. He took part in an informational segment on Facebook live to explain why Washington can expect more wildfires to burn across the state in the coming days. The state already faces a heatwave, with temperatures expected to reach about 30 degrees above normal in Western Washington.
“Wednesday will be our climactic day,” said Josh Clark, a meteorologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “We’ll see hot and dry conditions in place with temperatures that could get near 90 degrees on the west side (of the Cascade Mountains). On the east side as well, 95 to 100 degrees will be possible. Relative humidity on the east side will be down into the teens, possibly even single digits in the basin.”
“Where we are concerned the most is down in the lower Columbia Basin, along the gorge, and all the way up into the Okanagan Valley where those grasses have cured and fuels are already dry,” Cork added, pointing at a map of Eastern Washington. “We saw that last week with the 243 command fire that burned really, really fast … with the conditions we are expecting that potential is there again.”
Washington wildfires in 2019
A wildfire in Grant County burned well over 20,000 acres over the first week of June. It was just the latest in a string of wildfires that Washington is already experiencing. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz told the Candy, Mike and Todd Show in May that the state has already suffered more wildfires, more quickly in 2019.
“Unfortunately, we are likely to see even more significant fires and more significant smoke this year,” Franz said. “Last year, we had 1,850 fires total. The most our state has ever had on record — 40 percent of those fires west of the Cascades. The season really got started in early May and went well through October.”
“Given the (current) drought conditions, we’ve already had over 300 fires to date this year, with 50 percent of those west of the Cascades,” she added. “In fact, we saw our fires starting as early as the second week of March, which frankly is unprecedented in our state.”
Wildfire smoke causes great sunsets, worsens air quality
Cork notes that conditions are not as bad in areas in areas with more timber, so far. But he stresses that wildfire conditions are similar to what is expected in July, when Washington’s wildfire season generally begins. Another consideration is drought conditions. The most moderate and severe drought areas are in Western Washington near the coast.
“If you were to zoom this out and look at the entire Western US you would see Washington as the bullseye for drought concerns across the entire Western United States,” said DNR Meteorologist Josh Clark, looking at a drought map of Washington state. “So we are under the gun for these hot any dry conditions, we are under the gun for these critical fuel conditions. As we get closer and closer to July and the start of our normal fire season, that’s something to be aware of; be aware of the potential danger in regards of fire.”