After more early-season wildfires than ever, state prepares for long summer

Jul 9, 2021, 8:00 AM | Updated: 11:16 am
Fire crews work to extinguish hotspots of the Batterman wildfire in Central Washington on July 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Woodinville Fire/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of Woodinville Fire/Twitter)

The unusually hot start to summer in Washington state has led to more early-season wildfires than ever, but there is a silver lining.

“There have been a few structures that have been lost — sometimes those are sheds, or garages, or barns — but we’re not really seeing a significant number of homes at this point, and that’s what we’re really excited about and hoping to continue,” said Robert Wittenberg, deputy state fire marshal.

Gov. Inslee declares state of emergency for wildfires, limited burn ban

Two state mobilizations — in which firefighters from around the state are called in to assist at a wildfire — for fires in Douglas and Whitman counties just ended. Two fires continue to burn in Spokane and Asotin counties, including the Andrus Fire, which has prompted some evacuations.

To prepare for a hot summer of more fires to come, the state is piloting a strategy where they pre-position firefighters and equipment in areas that are high-risk or known to be typical problem areas before a fire starts.

“This hot, dry weather that we’re currently having is not really helpful for us. So we’re doing our best to really be prepared and pre-positioning some of our resources where necessary so that we can respond quickly,” Wittenberg told KIRO Radio.

“Any fire at this point with these kind of conditions can become concerning, so I think every agency as well as the state resources are trying to address them as soon as possible,” he added.

Members of the public are asked to be diligent about clearing leaves and brush away from their homes, and to not use power tools or park a car around dry grass. While small backyard fires, such as those contained in a firepit, are allowed under Governor Inslee’s current burn ban, they should be placed at least 10 feet from anything flammable and constantly monitored, with a hose nearby at all times.

Last week, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said the state has seen the largest number of fires to date this year.

There will be numbers on fireworks-related fires available in the coming weeks.

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After more early-season wildfires than ever, state prepares for long summer