The wildfire season across the Inland Northwest for 2015 has been one of the biggest, in terms of the number of fires, in recorded history. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 7.2 million acres have burned across the western U.S.
In Washington, more than 600,000 acres have burned across the central and eastern portions of the state. At least 30,000 firefighters, the population of a small city, have been battling these blazes. The National Guard and firefighters from other parts of the U.S., and as far away as Australia, have been coming to help.
The smoke from wildfires has drifted far to the east. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a wildfire smoke health advisory for areas west of the Continental Divide last week. Smoke from the western fires has been reported as far away as the southeastern portion of the U.S.
The smoke in this region has resulted in numerous air quality alerts. Last Friday, Spokane and surrounding areas had the most polluted air in the country. Air quality levels shot up into the “hazardous” category, the highest level since the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May 1980, which sent a large cloud of volcanic ash over the area. As of early this week, air quality levels have been very unhealthful.
One of the last huge blazes in the Spokane area was the 1991 firestorm. Several years of drought and strong winds helped lead to 92 blazes. Widespread destruction was reported from these massive fires.
Perhaps the worst fire in this region occurred in 1910. The fire of 1910 burned 3 million acres in two days across northeastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Montana. The extremely dry spring and summer, along with hot temperatures, helped to trigger the massive blaze. This firestorm raised public awareness concerning nature conservation and helped shape the U.S. Forest Service.
It appears we may finally see some much-needed weather changes across the region beginning this weekend.
As we get closer to the fall season in mid to late September, precipitation totals should start to pick up to near-normal levels. Let’s hope we get that much-needed moisture over the next week to help firefighters.
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