Washington wildfire season just warming up with high rain deficits

Jul 5, 2023, 8:09 AM | Updated: Aug 14, 2023, 2:15 pm

wildfire season rain...

TONASKET, WA - AUGUST 21: Wildfire moves through trees along Fish Lake in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Recreation Area on August 21, 2015 near Tonasket, Washington. The fires, which killed three firefighters and critically injured another, threaten homes and communities throughout the area. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

From the old TV show – “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” The fireworks may be over, but the threat of wildfires – both rural and urban – remains.

The recipe for wildfires is dry conditions, heat, and an ignition source.

Conditions are certainly dry across the region. In western Washington alone, since the start of the year, interior regions from Portland, Oregon, to Bellingham, Wash., have a deficit of between six and 10 inches of rain. The coast is even worse, with precipitation deficits of 10 inches to nearly 18 inches below average. And the last measurable rain fell June 20 across much of the region.

Firefighters battle massive blaze in Mason County

Wednesday and Thursday will offer the next wildfire ingredient – heat. Temperatures in the interior will rise well into the 80s and climb into the 90s in some of the warmest spots in the foothills and south interior.

Daily record high temperatures will be threatened on both days; for example, the record high July 5 at SeaTac Airport is 92 degrees, set in 2015. Olympia hit 93 also in 2015, while Bellingham has a record high of 86 degrees established in 2018.

Thanks to low-level offshore flow toward the ocean today, relative humidities will also be quite low for additional dry conditions along with some gusty winds – ripe conditions for wildfires and wildfire growth.

Yet, there are no wildfires without that third recipe ingredient – an ignition source. According to statistics, about 80% of wildfires are human-caused – the bulk of them are brush fires. The key to minimizing wildfires is avoiding fire starters. In recent days, there have been a number of brush fires, primarily along the side of roadways. Examples include in Olympia, Kent, and Sunday evening, along the east end of the Hewitt Avenue Trestle in Snohomish County.

Wildfires have ignited elsewhere around the state, including the Underwood Fire in the Columbia Gorge and the Rest Haven Fire near Selah. Wildfire smoke has visited Western Washington in five of the last 6 years, primarily from fires elsewhere, including British Columbia, Eastern Washington, Oregon, and even California. Already this year, smoke from the historic Canadian wildfires has passed through the region at high altitudes.

According to the Wildfire Outlook through September, this summer looks to offer yet another active wildfire season across the state. That assessment means the odds of more wildfire smoke may be in the offing later this summer.

There are actions that can be taken now. Remember those N95 masks? They are quite helpful if wildfire smoke envelopes the region again, keeping much of those fire particles out of your respiratory system.

Climate change making wildfires, smoke worse, Scientists call it the ‘new abnormal’

Steps can be taken around the house too. Visit firewise.org for a complete list, but some actions include trimming up tree limbs up to above your head, clearing your roof and gutters of debris, and creating a defensible space around your home or business.

Avoiding ignition sources is also critical. For instance, keep burning materials inside vehicles, tighten up tow chains so they don’t drag on the pavement and create sparks, and avoid driving across grassy areas where hot components can initiate a fire. Also, ensure campfires are cold before leaving camp, and avoid outdoor burning beyond BBQs and fire pits.

Many areas have placed outdoor burning bans in place, such as Island, Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties. Check with your local jurisdiction for specific information.

The summer weather outlook continues to reflect odds tipped to warmer and drier than average conditions. The warm, dry environmental conditions are beyond human control, yet avoiding fire starts is something that all can help prevent. Will Robinson can attest to that.

Follow Ted Buehner, the KIRO FM news meteorologist on Twitter 

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Washington wildfire season just warming up with high rain deficits