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

Northwest wildfire season comes a month early

Vern Smith walks through the site of his fire-destroyed home Monday in Wenatchee. (Associated Press)
Vern Smith walks through the site of his fire-destroyed home Monday in Wenatchee. (Associated Press)
Phuong Le Associated Press

Predictions of an early wildfire season have come true in the Northwest as low snowpack levels, record warm temperatures and very dry conditions have helped fuel blazes weeks earlier than usual.

Fires have destroyed more than two dozen homes and torched 30 square miles in Washington, as well as burned about 60 square miles in Oregon so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“Although typical for later in the season, it’s really early to get these big fires,” said Coleen Haskell with the fire center’s predictive services in Boise.

June brought searing temperatures to many parts of Washington and Oregon, drying out already parched grasses, shrubs, trees and other fuels and increasing their potential to ignite. Many areas in the region had their warmest June on record.

“It just makes the fuel that much hotter and takes less energy to start a fire,” said Colin Robertson, a fire behavior analyst for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The earlier fires are extending the season by about a month, Haskell said.

This year, there have been more than 300 fires in Washington and Oregon. By June 22, there were 321 fires in Washington, compared to 224 for the same period last year, according to the DNR.

The fire center’s July 1 forecast calls for above-normal wildfire danger in the Northwest for July through September. The forecast also says large trees and logs are currently as dry as they would typically be in August.

Some cities and counties have passed emergency fireworks bans, and state and city officials are pleading with the public to be extra cautious this summer.

“If this is going to be the new normal decades into the future as the climate warms, it will be more difficult to resist it,” said Dave Peterson, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “It probably makes more sense to adapt to it.”

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