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Regional News

Fire danger remains low in eastern Washington, but doesn't guarantee slow wildfire season

wildfire with firefighters
Courtesy Idaho Department of Lands
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Grasses are abundant and could fuel fires once they dry out later this summer.

Washington lands officials say this year’s wildfire season will get a late start, thanks to the cool, wet spring.

“Especially for the eastern slopes of the Cascades, we’re the same position that we are in March and February as of right now. We’ve basically bottomed out. Fire will have a very difficult time getting up and establishing and doing much in a lot of these areas,” said Vaughn Cork, the fire regulation program manager for the Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s going to take awhile for these things to dry out. So even though we might see some weather shifts, creating some enhanced fire potential in a few areas, these fuels, it takes them about a month really to dry out, so we’ve got to see some consistently warm and dry [weather] before we really run into some high severity, high intensity fires anywhere,” he said.

Forecasters say grass and weeds have proliferated during this wet spring, “good for grazing, not so good for continuous fine fuels capable of carrying fire,” Cork said. He cited the Okanogan, Kittitas and Klickitat Valleys as potentially susceptible to fire due to growth of wild grasses.

He says, barring a heat wave, the month of June should be quiet for wildfires. The outlook for July and August is dependent on the weather between now and then.

“We do see the eastern slopes of the Cascades start to light up a little bit for significant potential,” Cork said. “This is for large, costly fires having a potential to get going. And then as we progress into August that expands up into the Okanogan County area and out into the Columbia Basin.”

Fire officials urge people conducting outdoor burning to take extra care, even though danger right now is low. They says a vast majority of the fires are human-caused, often debris burning that gets out of control, and recreational campfires.