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So How Are We Doing This Fire Season?

October 2, 2012

Every spring people ask how this fire season will go.  Some ask if a dry spring foretells a hot, dry, fire-prone summer.  Others ask if a wet spring will create more underbrush and fuel contributing to fire season.  The answer to both questions is, “Maybe.”  It’s a two-part formula:  how dry will it get, and how many ignition opportunities will we see?

Some summers we get hot but we have periodic wetting rains.  That keeps the fuel moistures high and fire danger down.  Other summers, it’s dry as a bone and fuels are ready to ignite.  We’ve had pretty green summers with lots of ignitions.  We’ve also had very hot, dry summers with no ignitions.  It’s the combination of the two that dictate how much time our trucks spend on fires vs. in the apparatus bays.

This summer, we’ve gone a long time without rain.  Fuel moistures are very low right now.  While it is fall, with temperatures dropping and night-time humidity rising, we still haven’t had any serious rain.  Fuel beds in Washington State are very dry right now.

Then there are the ignition sources.  Summertime dry lightning wreaks a lot of havoc.  Dry lightning in central Washington started several major fires September 9 taxing the state’s fire resources.  Summertime storms are not much of a threat in October.  But there was that time in 1991 when a spring-like storm system blew through Washington on October 16, knocked down a bunch of power lines and Spokane experienced Fire Storm.

Another ignition source is people.  Last week morning commuters spotted smoke in a popular climbing area and called it in.  Not sure how someone could be unaware of the fire hazard, but we had to grub out an unattended campfire, despite County and State burn bans.  There was also the individual who was grinding bolts off of a vehicle, showering sparks all over waist-high dry grass in August.  We caught that fire before it got very big.  Statistics tell us that 66% of Washington wildfires are human-caused.

Mix that with today’s weather forecast:  a red-flag warning for winds across the state.

The bottom line is that we are not out of the woods yet and current conditions can still yield a large wildfire.  If we have no ignitions, we’ll be okay.  With most ignition sources being human-caused, our best recommendation is to continue being careful with ignition sources.  Give it a few more weeks of careful outdoor fire safety attention.

Firefighters plan for the mythical ‘season ending event’; that end of summer weather event that brings higher moisture, cooler temperatures and a shift toward fall/winter weather patterns.  Once that occurs, we pull most of our wildland gear off of the trucks and begin to prepare for winter operations.  We’re not there yet, so keep sharp on outdoor fire safety.

Meanwhile, we still have our bags packed for another large wildfire deployment.  Let’s hope we don’t have to use them again this week.


PS:  Three hours after posting this, the City of Spokane Fire Department and Spokane County Fire District 9 fought a wildfire in the Beacon Hill area.  The wind-driven fire grew to 11 1/2 acres and threatened several homes (none were lost however)  before it was brought under control. 


From → Fire Prevention

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