WASHINGTON — The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning Friday for the western slopes of the north and central Cascades as hot, windy conditions provided fuel for fire growth. As a whole, Washington state has seen a relatively tame fire season so far, though there is still time left to go.
“Thankfully, we've had a fairly mild fire season overall,” said UW Climate Impacts Group Climate Adaptation Specialist Crystal Raymond. “I would say it's about average across the west and maybe a bit below average in Washington and Oregon, with the exception of southeastern Oregon, which continues to have an above-normal fire season.”
What’s occurred this season has fallen in line with predictions made by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and other agencies, including researchers at UW.
“The work that we're doing to do seasonal predictions of wildfire season is really panning out in terms of being able to tailor what we're looking at and getting that forecast [honed in]. So, I think that's been a really positive feeling,” Raymond said.
A wet, cool spring created a slow start to the fire season, with fewer fires and area burned than in some recent fire seasons, Raymond said. Still, she said, it’s been hot and dry over the summer. Heading into what is typically a windy start to September brings some additional concerns.
“We're seeing that this end of August, beginning of September period is really critical for the west side,” Raymond said. “And it's when we get major wind events that we really feel fire danger on the west side of the state.”
King County Emergency Management Director Brendan McCluskey said areas of concern in King County are those considered part of the wildland urban interface, which is the transition zone between undeveloped wildland and human development.
“We want people to be aware and know what to do in case there is a fire. We promote a ready-set-go type of evacuation protocols. We also want them to be aware of their surroundings and make sure they're careful when they're doing things outside and outdoors, especially with fire,” McCluskey said.
Emergency management is working with fire districts, King Conservation District and other King County departments on a wildfire mitigation plan looking at a number of issues, including forest health and education for people living in the wildland urban interface.
“There will be more people in those areas and I think that's a good question: how do we deal with that?” McCluskey said. “It can be through a lot of things. Making sure we have good codes in place to make sure people are building in good areas and have two means of egress. You don't want to have an area where there's only one way in and one way out. And we want to make sure they're doing things like having good standoff distances and making sure they don't have fuel next to their houses.”