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November wildfires putting strain on state resources

Dry conditions and climate change are extending the timeline of Washington's wildfire season.

SEATTLE — The handful of wildfires in western Washington this late in the year are highly uncommon, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"Fires in mid-November in this part of the country are pretty unusual," said Dave Peterson, a Professor of Forest Biology at the University of Washington.

Peterson said fires we've seen like, the Chinook that started this past week, are fueled by the current dry weather pattern hitting the state, creating the perfect conditions for fires to start.

"We have relatively strong east winds so that wind is blowing across the land and helps to dry out those fuels whereas if we had a kind of normal westerly wind coming off the ocean, it would be much wetter in," said Peterson.

According to data from DNR, these are the first fires on record to start in western Washington in November. There are a few that started in November in eastern Washington.

One was the "Camp Fire,” which started on November 9th, 2020. There was also the "Milepost 20" fire that started on October 29, 2019.

"Our general winter rain pattern has been sporadic,” said Peterson. “The amount of rain people have received across western Washington has been quite variable, and so in this case I think we probably have vegetation drying out in areas that have not had as much rain as others."

Peterson said fire seasons going forward will be extended due to climate change.

"So, time will tell, but I think within the next couple of decades we may see that signal start to occur," said Peterson.

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