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Northwest set for reprieve as wetter, light wildfire season approaches

A wildfire buring near Omak, Washington in August 2015. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Numerous predictions concerning wildfires this summer have ranged from doom to gloom. Countless agencies — including King County Public Health, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — have said that this season will be one of the more destructive in ages.

“Unfortunately, we are likely to see even more significant fires and more significant smoke this year,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz told the Candy, Mike and Todd Show in May. “Last year, we had 1,850 fires total. The most our state has ever had on record — 40 percent of those fires west of the Cascades. The season really got started in early May and went well through October.”

That may not be the case according to data from UW climate scientist Cliff Mass. As he notes, while this is normally the driest time of year for this region, “it is now raining in parts of our region and that is just a preamble to the rainy period in front of us.”

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His forecasts over the next few weeks call for light rain over Western Washington, with moderate coverage over British Columbia and northwest Washington, and moderate wetting over the Olympics and north Cascades.

What this implies is a shorter and less intense wildfire season.

“It will reduce our water use and help bring up our streams, particularly in areas in which they have been low (like the Olympic Peninsula). With this precipitation, our July totals will much higher than normal for virtually the whole region,” Mass says. He believes that we will mostly escape BC smoke as well.

The state Legislature recently approved a record $50 million in its recent budget to combat wildfires. The state money will help make 30 seasonal firefighters, full time. It will also add two more helicopters that dump water on fires. The state currently has seven choppers.

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Congress and President Donald Trump also approved $2 billion for the state to fight fires over the next eight years. That federal money is available starting this season.

The ominous talk on Seattle’s wildfire season may continue, but Mass isn’t too worried about it.

“The bottom line: after all the scary talk about a dry summer with catastrophic wildfires, it is becoming clear that such an apocalyptic scenario is becoming highly unlikely and you can enjoy the sunny days ahead without worry or concern.”

Good to know.

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