OLYMPIA, Wash. — Clouds are building and temperatures are cooling across Washington state.
After a summer of what the Washington Department of Natural Resources considers the worst drought since 1894, will this weekend’s rain event put an end to the wild record-setting 2021 fire season?
“I would say to you that we are now at the very tail end, and we’re seeing a very strong sense of relief,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “We’re still going to have all hands on deck ready. But I think this weekend and forward, we are largely coming out of the woods. But it doesn’t mean we can just ban safety precautions.”
On Thursday, Sept. 16, the public will once again be allowed to access DNR-protected lands east of the Cascade mountains - an area that has been off-limits since July 23.
But open doesn’t mean business as usual. Campfires will not be allowed as a burn ban will stay in effect until the end of the month.
Franz has reason to be cautious. The worst fires in Washington and Oregon hit in September of 2020, most of it over Labor Day weekend, with 500,000 acres burned in Washington alone.
The fires that spread to western Washington were driven by strong winds out of the east. Fires in eastern Washington resulted in the death of a child and serious injuries to his parents trying to escape the flames.
While the number of fires started in Washington state on both sides of the Cascades reached a record 1,750, the total number of acres burned was significantly below 2020 levels. Franz credits quick initial reactions and increased use of aircraft for keeping 98% of fires at 10 acres or less.
However, several fires continue to burn in Washington, including the Schneider Springs Complex between Mount Rainier and Yakima, which has topped 100,000 acres, placing it into the category of a megafire.