End of summer doesn’t mean wildfire season is behind us

Sep 23, 2021, 11:31 AM
Washington wildfires, DNR, wildfire season...
Wildfires burned across Washington this summer. (NW Interagency Coordinator, Twitter)
(NW Interagency Coordinator, Twitter)

Even though autumn is here and the weather is cooling down, don’t try to have any cozy fall bonfires on the beach or in the backyard just yet. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is reminding people that it is still wildfire season.

“This fire season is still going on, we still have a couple more weeks that we are on alert, and there are certainly fires that could develop. … Even though the weather is cooling down, there still is a risk of wildfire,” said Robert Wittenberg, public information officer for the Fire Marshal’s Office.

Governor Inslee’s statewide burn ban for most recreational and agricultural fires runs through the end of the month. Some individual counties also have additional restrictions.

More than 100 homes evacuated in Lake Chelan due to wildfires

There are still four active, uncontained fires in Washington — near Winthrop, Lake Chelan, and Yakima — though none requiring a state mobilization.

While this wildfire season got off to a rough start with more early-season blazes than ever, things calmed down later in the summer, mostly thanks to more fall-like weather at the end of August and in September.

“It did start a little bit earlier than normal — things were a little bit consistent with how they were last year,” Wittenberg said. “But we did get a little bit of a cooler break later in the season, which has been really helpful with keeping things a little bit moderated.”

That stands in great contrast to last year, when hot, dry weather and storms caused devastating fires on both sides of the state over Labor Day weekend. More than 500,000 acres burned in less than two days, and the entire town of Malden was lost.

It was not only the late-summer weather that intervened in Washington’s favor this year. The state also tried a new strategy of pre-positioning firefighters and resources at spots that are typically prone to fires, as a way of nipping flames in the bud.

“We were doing a better job of pre-positioning and planning how resources were going to be deployed. We were really able to be proactive in getting resources in the proper locations so we could respond quicker,” Wittenberg explained. “And I think that really paid off.”

And as the Washington State Department of Natural Resources pointed out, firefighters were also working with twice as many planes and helicopters as last year.

For the remainder of wildfire season, the State Fire Marshal’s Office asks that homeowners — especially those who live in wooded areas — take care to remove leaves, brush, and other potential tinder from around their houses.

While some in California have used special aluminum wraps to protect their homes and even the state’s tallest tree, the Fire Marshal’s Office is not at this point recommending that as a strategy. But it does support the idea behind the foil wraps — to make a home less flammable.

“While tinfoil certainly can do that, just keeping debris off of your roof, keeping debris out from underneath deck spaces or any kind of hidden corner around the exterior of your home will really help, as well as keeping any vegetation trimmed back,” Wittenberg said.

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End of summer doesn’t mean wildfire season is behind us