Yakima Valley is Washington’s Worst Potential Fire Season Area
Another busy fire season should be expected this year with land around Yakima especially vulnerable.
Speaking at a conference of wildland firefighters from Alaska, Washington and Oregon at the Yakima Convention Center, Josh Clark, a meteorologist with the state Department of Natural Resources said, “If I were to pick one place that might experience above-average fire danger, it’s the Yakima Valley and the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains.....less rain in the winter, above-average temperatures and less mountain snow mean fires could start earlier and burn longer than a typical season."
Chuck Turley, a wildfire division manager for the state Department of Natural Resources said Washington has seen a dramatic increase in wildfires over the past 10 years because of climate change: “We don’t think of them as fire seasons anymore, we think of them as fire years, because they start earlier and go later."
Last year, 3,404 wildfires blackened more than 1.2 million acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest. In Central Washington, two large infernos – the Jolly Mountain and Norse Peak fires – scorched roughly 92,000 acres of forest in Kittitas County.
When trying to contain large fires threatening homes or other property, states can request federal funds to pay for additional firefighting personnel, such as the National Guard. Last year, troops were deployed to the Cle Elum area after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the Jolly Mountain Fire, which threatened hundreds of cabins and homes west of Roslyn. About 1,000 National Guard troops have now been trained to assist with firefighting efforts.
Washington spent $130 million on battling wildfires last year. This year the Legislature allocated roughly $16 million for improving forest health and fighting wildfires.....about ten percent of what it cost to battle blazes in 2017.
Improving forest health is an integral part of the state’s long-term plan for preventing wildfires because thinning trees killed by insects or disease or damaged by natural disasters must be addressed first. In addition to burning faster and helping spread wildfires, dead trees threaten firefighters because they’re more likely to fall.
Of the state’s approximately 22 million acres of forest, roughly 512,000 acres are dead and a total of 2.7 million acres need to be treated to reduce the fire danger. About 80 percent of the dead trees are on the east side of the state.