OLYMPIA – The threat of wildfire has declined in July with cloudy, wet weather, but that could all change in August, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said Tuesday.
As she prepared to take her annual fire shelter deployment test, Franz said the state has recorded more than 900 wildfires so far in 2019, compared to between 400 and 500 for the comparable period last year. Fire season started unusually early, with significant wildfires in March, and at one point Washington had the highest risk for wildfires in the nation.
About 30% of the fires were west of the Cascades, she said. “No part of our state is left untouched” she added.
But the dire predictions for July did not materialize and the risk has now returned to normal levels, she said.
“We’ve been blessed in July with overcast skies and rain,” Franz said.
That’s expected to change in August, with the return of hot, dry weather.
To highlight the work firefighters do, Franz demonstrates the deployment of a fire shelter tent with other elected officials each year. They are shown how to unpack a shelter from its carrying bag, flap it open and get under it properly in 30 seconds, as firefighters would when trapped in dire circumstances in a wildfire.
It wouldn’t save you from being burned, but it could keep you from dying of smoke inhalation as a fire burned above you, Franz said.
In past years, it has been with Gov. Jay Inslee, but he’s been out of the state for much of the summer seeking the Democratic nomination for president. This year, she was joined by Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Christina Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who plans to run for lands commissioner if Franz runs for governor, and Reps. Drew McEwen, R-Union, and Beth Doglio, D-Olympia.
Rolfes complimented Franz for making a clear and convincing pitch to the Legislature for more money to fight wildfires and improve forest health after several years of record fires.
“It’s a heck of a lot more cost effective to prevent it than to fight it, and I think we’ve made a lot of strides on that front in the Legislature,” McEwen said.
Doglio agreed the state has made strides in improving forest health. “But really, the cause here is climate change, and we also made a lot of strides this last session in passing legislation that is going to allow our state to meet our emission reduction goals.”
All four managed to get into their fire shelters in the required 30 seconds.
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