Western Washington under rare red flag fire warning

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on September 6, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 7 at 10:18 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Unstable weather conditions and extremely dry air has prompted a red flag warning for all of Western Washington.

Red flag warnings are usually alerts reserved for Eastern Washington or the central part of the state, where it's hot and dry throughout most of the summer. But conditions are just right for potentially explosive fire weather right here on the west side.

The red flag warning extends from the Olympic Mountains to the Cascade Mountains, and is in effect through Wednesday night.

During a red flag warning, thunderstorms are likely, and combined with high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and dry fuels on the ground, such as what is being found in the Olympics and Cascades right now, there is high potential for wildfires.

"This just doesn't happen," said Department of Natural Resources Fire Information Officer Sarah Foster as she picked up a stick and snapped it. "I've never seen that in the years I've been with DNR."

Foster just wrapped up covering the Salmon Fire in Okanogan County only to return to Olympia and find even drier conditions that are expected to get worse over the next two days.

"Usually when we get red flags over here, the east side is burning up," she said. 

Fire experts say atmospheric conditions are ideal for a big fire in the next two days in Western Washington and even after that fire danger will remain high for several days.

That's not the case this year and it creates a unique set of problems. People on the east side of the Cascades know how to clear brush and other fire fuels from the areas surrounding their homes. They are unaccustomed to doing that on the west side. Also, with more people living on the west side, more homes are at risk from wildfires.

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