For more than a decade, scientists and land managers have worked together to produce fire season forecasts for the Western United States. They take into account fuel conditions, like dry grasses and brush, current drought status and seasonal climate outlooks.
Our fire season usually begins in July and ends around the middle of September. The official outlook issued May 1 forecasts a normal fire season for the Inland Northwest.
However, these forecasts may be updated as we head toward the summer. The record moisture in March helped grass and brush grow, providing ample potential fuel for fires. We’re now in a drier-than-normal weather pattern as high pressure has built into the region. On average, July and August are the driest months of the year. In July, Spokane International Airport normally receives .76 inches of rain, decreasing to .68 inches in August.
Officials say that a long fire season can’t be blamed entirely on droughts and climate change. Increasing numbers of people are looking to escape the cities and go into the country and forest regions. As brush dries, fire danger levels increase rapidly. Tossed cigarettes, smoldering campfires and fires meant to burn weeds or garbage sometimes get out of control.
Over the past few years, area fires have been mostly controllable. However, in 2008, blazes were battled in Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Adams, Ferry, Okanogan and Spokane counties. The Valley View fire in Spokane County destroyed 13 homes in the Dishman Hills area and more than 1,200 acres; it was sparked by a backyard fire pit.
Those fires were considered to be the worst since the firestorm of 1991. That huge blaze began Oct. 16 as gale force winds of more than 60 mph uprooted trees and downed power lines. The live power lines ignited the dry grass and brush. The 92 fires destroyed 114 homes and killed one person. The blazes lasted for six days. Also on Oct. 16, 1991, a mud and ash storm blasted Hayden Lake.
For the entire Western U.S., normal fire season stretches from late July through November, sometimes into December or later in Southern California. The Southwest, including the southern part of California, may see another tough year as severe drought is now plaguing that part of the country.