Wildfire danger increases as Northwest’s ‘real summer’ begins

Jul 11, 2018, 1:29 PM
climate change, wildfires, summer...
Wildfires hit north of Walla Walla, Wash. in August 2016. (Greg Lehman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via AP)
(Greg Lehman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via AP)

We’ve hit that sweet spot of summer weather in Western Washington.

Though summer technically began June 21, University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Cliff Mass says the “magical period” of summer weather begins around July 10 and lasts through early September.

Mass calls this the “real summer” because June can often be cloudy with periods of wet weather. It’s the same reason many here say summer doesn’t really begin until after July 4.

And this year’s summer is right on time.

RELATED: Western Washington fires become more concerning for state officials

Sunny and warm weather is forecast for the next week and beyond, according to the National Weather Service. Wednesday and Thursday kicked off a warming trend. That trend will continue through the weekend as we prepare for temperatures at or near 90 degrees Sunday or Monday in some areas of Washington state.

As Mass points out, beginning Wednesday there is little if any chance of rain. According to data from Sea-Tac, the probability of rain hovers around 10 percent beginning in mid-July. The lowest chance of rain is near the end of the month and into early August.

The downside to all this? Wildfires.

Wildfires underway

Wildfires have already had an impact this summer.

The Ryegrass Coulee Fire that started Monday and spread to more than 1,500 acres forced law enforcement to shut down a stretch of I-90 east of the Cascades on Tuesday. Nearby residents were forced to evacuate. By Wednesday crews had it approximately 50 percent contained.

Fire danger is currently high in much of Central and Eastern Washington, save for a handful of counties, mostly in the southeast region. There is high fire danger in Benton County.

All counties west of the Cascades — except for Wahkiakum — are currently under a moderate fire warning.

Mass says the potential for wildfires will increase “substantially” in the third week of July.

“The surface fuels (e.g. grasses, small bushes, debris on the forest floors) are going to dry out quickly during the next few weeks,” Mass writes.

Though Eastern Washington traditionally feels the brunt of wildfire season, the state has shifted the way it prepares for them in the western portion of the state. The Department of Natural Resources previously said it will stage three helicopters in the west.

“Historically, Western Washington has had really benign fire activity. In the last five years, that’s been a categorical shift,” Aaron Schmidt with the Department of Natural Resources said. “So much so that we are staging three helicopters in Western Washington this year.”

Burn bans

Burn bans are already being issued in Western Washington.

With the upcoming stretch of dry summer weather, Pierce County imposed an outdoor burn ban to reduce the risk of fires. The ban takes effect noon Thursday.

Ditto for Island County, which announced a burn ban that takes effect at noon Friday.

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Wildfire danger increases as Northwest’s ‘real summer’ begins