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Inslee declares wildfire state of emergency for Washington

With the growing risk of wildfires, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency and statewide prohibition on most outdoor burning.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — With the growing risk of wildfires, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency that includes a prohibition on most outdoor and agricultural burning through Sept. 30.

"Washington is facing a historic drought and we have already experienced record-breaking heat. We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent wildfires, and the loss of life and destruction of land and property that comes with them,” Inslee said. “We don’t want a repeat of recent years with dangerous wildfires across the state that have destroyed towns, killed livestock and resulted in weeks of unhealthy air quality. I urge everyone to do their part to help protect our beautiful state and all our communities.”

The order includes some burn ban exceptions, such as gas-fueled stoves in some circumstances and small campfires in contained structures on private property. Though the order does not supersede more restrictive provisions by local governments. 

The order also activates the Washington National Guard to assist in wildfire suppression efforts. 

“We have seen a record-breaking number of fires for this early in the summer,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “Extreme drought conditions leave communities across our state at risk as fire danger continues to climb. I’m asking everyone to do their part to and take precautions to prevent wildfires. Our firefighters on the frontlines depend on us to help keep them safe.”

On Friday, Inslee issued two emergency proclamations related to wildfires and extreme temperatures. 

The first proclamation suspends statutory truck driver hour limitations, which Inslee's office said is needed to address the interruption in fuel distribution to firefighters.

The second proclamation declares an emergency in 19 counties across the state for heat damage to roads and infrastructure. This is for the following counties: Adams, Asotin, Clark, Cowlitz, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, King, Kittitas, Okanagan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Whatcom, Whitman and Yakima.

This triggers Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans and allows for local coordination to fix any damage more quickly. 

There were two significant wildfires in Washington state as of Tuesday afternoon. The Batterman Fire, which started July 4, is nearly 8,000 acres. The Andrus Fire, which started on July 5, was about 300 acres as of July 6.

Fire managers on Tuesday also painted a bleak picture for the rest of the wildfire season. 

"We really are running about a month ahead on typical fire danger," said Russ Lane, assistant wildfire division manager for operations and aviation for the state Department of Natural Resources. "So the conditions are displaying more like mid-August of a challenging season. So yeah, we’ve having some large fires starting to emerge on the landscape, and heavy resource engagement right now."

Fuels and conditions statewide are dry, he said, following the recent record heat wave, and the overarching drought in the American West. Those exceptional high temperatures took a toll on people and infrastructure in the Northwest – hundreds have died, and roads buckled when temperatures soared.

The concern is an early fire season also likely means a longer fire season, which drains resources.

"It just really stretches the fire resources, and puts a lot of wear and tear on the firefighters," Lane said. "Normally we would have a peak season of 30 to 45 days, it could be more like 60 to 90 this season."

He expects that problem to be compounded, as neighboring states that often send aid are experiencing similarly dry conditions.

For years, experts have warned that human-caused climate change and warming temperatures are lengthening fire seasons. Similarly, experts say extreme heat events are made more severe and more likely.

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