Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

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

DNR uses new forecasting tool to pinpoint hot spots for wildfires

Pinpointing where wildfires might break out before the flames get going should help firefighters respond more quickly under a new government forecasting tool.

Josh Clark, a fire meteorologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, is issuing a daily map that combines elements of heat, humidity, lightning, wind, weather history and fuel availability to let firefighters know where a blaze could start and how much energy the fire could release.

At the same time, crew supervisors can station their people and vehicles in areas where fires are possible to provide faster response, he said.

“It takes every bit of science we have behind the scenes,” he said of his predictions.

“This tool gives guidance to fire managers,” Clark said. “It is guidance, not absolute.”

The experimental forecasting tool is being developed in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula.

Clark taps into rural automated weather sensor data around the state to help come up with the daily map.

The automated data goes back 37 years to give the forecast a measure of history.

On Aug. 21, several fires broke out in Eastern Washington when a thermal low pressure area whipped up winds to push fires out of control. The forecast could see the problem in advance.

As expected, last week’s map showed that dry fuel was common across north-central and Eastern Washington where fire danger was deemed high.

Elsewhere, the slopes of the Olympic Mountains west of Seattle showed up on the map as having high fire danger, too.

Northeast Washington forests were relatively low for fire risk last week.

The fire map information is shared with DNR’s agency partners, including rural fire districts and the U.S. Forest Service.

The map has a resolution of 2.5 kilometers for each forecast point.

“The reaction has been very positive,” Clark said. “Our folks love it.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.