The most dangerous wildfire weather of the year has arrived today in Washington, with crackling-dry forests and grasslands, soaring temperatures and increased probability of multiple large fires from now through the middle of next week, according to wildfire experts at the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.
“The dry fuel, record temperatures, high winds and lightning rolling in from the south present explosive potential for wildfire throughout the state,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “This is a critical fire-weather pattern, notorious for producing large fires with extreme fire behavior. We need everyone to take the utmost care not to spark any fires.”
DNR has one of the state’s top wildfire fighting teams ready for deployment over the weekend, in addition to prepositioning crews, fire engines, helicopters and firefighting aircraft at key locations around the state.
As this fire-weather pattern swept through southwestern Oregon yesterday, a large fire ignited near Stouts Creek east of Canyonville, burning 6,000 acres overnight and threatening homes and forest habitat. According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, this fire is zero percent contained and showing extreme fire behavior, characterized by explosive bursts, high speeds and embers traveling long distances.
In Washington, areas in the following counties are under a red flag warning as of 1 p.m. today: Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, Mason, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Lewis, Cowlitz, Skamania, Clark, Benton, Yakima, Klickitat, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Asotin and Garfield.
A red flag warning is a fire-weather warning issued by the National Weather Service to inform area firefighting and land management agencies that conditions pose elevated danger of wildfire. For an updated map of the red flag warning, visit wrh.noaa.gov.
As of this week, 655 wildfires have ignited on the 13 million acres DNR protects from fire across the state. By this date in 2014, the worst wildfire season in state history, there had been 455 fires.
Over recent years, the state wildfire season has begun earlier and with greater intensity. DNR fire and forest health experts believe some of the uptick in the number of earlier fires is due to years of persistent drought on the east side of the Cascades, which have weakened forests and made them more susceptible to insects and disease. Ailing forests become flammable “tinder bombs,” ready to ignite from a human-caused spark or lightning strike.
Last year’s fire season was the biggest on record in Washington, with the largest state fire ever, the Carlton Complex, destroying more than 250,000 acres. More than 1 million acres of Washington’s landscape has been consumed by wildfire since 2009.