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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Rains dampen fire season, for now

Melanthia Mitchell Associated Press

SEATTLE – Recent heavy rains throughout the Pacific Northwest have helped dilute fears of an early and difficult wildfire season, fire officials say, but they say the rainy weather has only delayed the season, not canceled it.

Wet weather this spring has significantly decreased the threat of a severe fire season in the Northwest, but the potential for an above-average season remains in areas relatively untouched by rains or where wet conditions sped the growth of potential fuel.

“We’re still very, very concerned, but it has been a real blessing to see the spurts of rain coming through there regularly because that has moderated the danger for a long, intense fire season,” said Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Earlier this year, fire officials feared low snowpacks throughout Washington and most of Oregon, as well as dry, mild weather in January and February, would mean a severe wildfire season.

But April and May were unusually wet in the region. For the two months, Oregon received 150 percent to 300 percent of normal rainfall, and Washington state received 70 percent to 150 percent of average rainfall, said Jeree Mills, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

John Saltenberger, a fire-weather program manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the fire danger across the Pacific Northwest is currently below average. The exception is central Washington and Washington’s Okanagan Valley, where fire danger is expected to be a little above normal due to persistent drought.

“As we get into July and August we usually almost always heat up, so we’re expecting the fire season to come up to average values,” Saltenberger said.

“We’ve been lucky with the wetness we’ve gotten,” Saltenberger said. “It hasn’t erased the fire season but it’s delayed its onset to about where it should be.”

Officials expect the fire season to ramp up in August, Mills said.

The abundant rains have been good for forested areas of the Cascades, but dry fuels remain in some parts of northern and Eastern Washington.

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