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DNR’s Franz discusses wildfire season so far

 FILE PHOTO - a fire danger sign is seen in front of brush; smoke is visible in background
National Interagency Fire Center

Washington’s lands commissioner says the state has had an active but, so far, not unusually destructive wildfire season.

Hilary Franz says about a thousand fires have ignited on Washington land, both public and private, burning about 80,000 acres.

“Usually by this time we would have seen a number of fires, obviously, in central and eastern Washington, but not as many fires as we have seen in western Washington. That usually comes later in the season, but we have really been all hands on deck in every corner,” she said.

Department of Natural Resources meteorologist Matthew Dehr said Monday that while summer has been hot and dry for the Evergreen State, the season has been quieter than previous years. That luck could still change later, he said.

“Some positives so far from this year have been a real lack of lightning-caused fires. We have not had much lightning this year to date. However, lightning typically does peak in early August in Washington,” Dehr said.

In addition to fewer fires sparked by lightning, Dehr said there have apparently been fewer human-caused fires so far this year.

“Things are going pretty well right now,” Dehr said.

The largest current fire, Newell Road, is burning more than 56,000 acres in the south central part of the state, just north of the Columbia River in Klickitat County. Dehr noted no Washington fire in 2022 reached that scale. More than 500 firefighters are there, trying to contain wind-fanned flames in dry grass and desert vegetation. Some of them are from far-away states, such as Georgia, Florida, Maryland and Alaska.

Franz says the state’s goal is to hold more than 90% of the fires to 10 acres or less. She says its strategy for accomplishing that is to attack fires earlier from the air.

“So, literally within, in some cases, 15-30 minutes, those air resources are on the fire and not just one or two, but we literally are swarming the fires with seven, eight, 10 air resources. On the Newell Road, for example, we had around 17 air resources that very first day, Friday, when it started,” she said.

Franz says the state has increased its fleet of aircraft to about 30 and ensured it has better, more frequent access to other planes and helicopters.

“We’ve moved our contract air resources from ‘call when needed’ to ‘exclusive use.’ So we have those air resources prepositioned in locations that are in high risk areas across the state,” she said.

Franz says her agency has declared a drought emergency for 12 Washington counties, including Okanogan, Walla Walla and Yakima counties, and a drought advisory for the rest of the state.

Even though fewer fires this summer are being sparked by people, Franz said human activity is still the most commonly-reported cause of fires in the state. She urged people to be careful when they’re in areas where the surroundings around them are potentially flammable.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.