After a snowy and icy winter that lasted longer than usual, it was predicted that this wildfire season would be tamer. Unfortunately, a dry spring could mean the opposite. According to Nick Nauslar, a meteorologist from the National Interagency Fire Center, “If you have more snowpack and the later in the year that it lasts, the less likely you’re gonna have a lot of wildfires or significant wildfires.” He also adds, “You can have a very heavy winter snowpack, but if conditions change in the spring and you get very warm and dry, that snowpack can melt very quickly and you can enter a fire season around normal or sometimes even earlier than expected.”
The Pacific Northwest has faced increasingly less rainfall in the spring in the past few years and more wildfires during the summer. This year, Washington had its 15th wettest April, but over half of the state is experiencing abnormally dry or moderate droughts, affecting 25,000 residents. In Central and Eastern Washington, 25% of the state is in a severe drought, and 3.9% is in an extreme drought.
It is now predicted that parts of Southeast Washington have the potential for above-normal wildland fires in June. The above-normal fire prediction extends to almost all of Washington, starting in July and stretching through August and September. Even though Western Washington isn’t predicted to experience wildfires until next month, residents can still be affected.
Wildfire smoke from British Columbia, Eastern Washington, Oregon and California have blown into Western Washington in past years, causing a hazard to public health. It is important to know the best ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke, including the following:
- Monitoring air quality
- Staying indoors when the air quality is unhealthy
- Replacing air conditioning filters
- Keeping windows and doors closed
It is also necessary to know how to prevent wildfires, because 80 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. Paying attention to weather and drought conditions can determine whether or not it is safe to have a fire or sparks. Hot, dry and windy weather conditions can cause fires that easily spread through dry grass.
When camping and building campfires, there are important steps you should take:
- Build the fire on a flat and open location away from flammable materials like logs, decaying leaves and dry bushes
- Move away grass, leaves and needles so the fire is on bare soil
- Cut wood into short pieces, pile it in the area and light the fire
- Stay with your fire at all times
- Extinguish entirely before leaving, making sure it is cold to the touch. You can do this by pouring at least one bucket of water on the fire, then stirring and repeating the process at least twice.
With the Fourth of July and other summer celebrations coming up, be sure to check federal, state and city regulations before lighting fireworks. Fireworks start over 19,000 fires and send 9,000 people to the emergency room every year.
Finally, it’s important to know that some fires are not bad. Fire is a necessary part of an ecosystem, and low-intensity fires can increase forest decomposition, create patches of land for new plants, improve habitats and food for animals, and give nutrients to plants that survive.
If you spot a wildfire, take these steps to ensure your safety:
- Remain calm and away from the fire, and when safe, call 911
- Tell the dispatcher what you see and where you see it
- Note if there is anything suspicious at the scene of the fire like a potential cause
A small fire can quickly spread, so be sure to stay safe this summer.