July 30, 2009 in City

As more fires pop up, crews douse them fast, officials say

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Hundreds of firefighters from throughout the region responded to the wildfire near Lake Chelan on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

Washington state fire crews are on track to battle a record number of wildfires this season, but the total number of acres burned may be slightly lower than average.

Fire crews have been able to douse most lightning-sparked fires in recent weeks before the flames can spread far, officials said.

“It’s a reflection of the hard work of the DNR firefighting program and the firefighters that have had the strong initial attack to keep those fires small,” said Aaron Toso, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources. “As a fire grows larger, the costs to fight it grow exponentially.”

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 700 fires had been reported statewide, up from more than 450 fires reported during this time last year. But the total number of acres burned is 3,600 this year, down from 6,400 at the same point last year, the DNR reported.

Fire crews have been partially aided by a lack of heavy winds. However, wind gusts from lightning storms Tuesday night pushed a fire in Chelan to more than 700 acres.

Most of the larger fires have been reported in Western and Central Washington, a departure from years past. And this week is just the beginning. Fire season usually kicks up the last week of July and in the first few weeks of August, Toso said.

“With record heat on the east and west sides of the state, in conjunction with extreme dry conditions, the threat is statewide,” Toso said.

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