Ten things to know about the Washington wildfires, including how to help with fire-relief efforts.
1. How to help
Several national and local agencies are accepting monetary donations for fire-relief efforts, including:
• The Community Foundation of North Central Washington is collecting donations for victims of the fires through the Chelan Valley Fire Relief Fund. A residential community in Chelan has pledged a donation match of up to $10,000.
• The Okanogan County Community Action Council is accepting donations. The council is providing funding for immediate needs such as gas, food and shelter.
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• Room One, in Twisp, is accepting donations. It serves the Methow Valley.
• The Salvation Army office in Wenatchee is giving away gas cards and thrift-store vouchers. It is requesting financial donations.
• The Red Cross is accepting donations for wildfire disaster relief, which allows it to set up shelters and provide quick help.
• The United Way of Chelan and Douglas counties is taking donations through its Sleepy Hollow Fire Relief Fund. You can specify in comments a specific fire to direct donations.
2. These fires are big, and growing
The recent fires in Okanogan County, including one near Twisp, have burned more than 96,000 acres; fires in Chelan County had burned more than 123,000 acres as of Thursday morning, Aug. 20. Both fires were expected to grow over the next few days.
At least 47 homes and 37 outbuildings were burned in the Chelan-area fires, though more are likely to be counted.
It’s not known how many structures have burned in Okanogan County.
With little relief for fire weather over the next week, the fires’ combined size could exceed last year’s Carlton Complex.
3. Conditions this year were primed for big fires
Low snowpack and unseasonably warm weather this spring left forests tinder dry. Because past forest-management practices dictated that fires be put out right away, many forests are thick with heavy fuels that would have burned naturally.
Calling for more funding for forest treatment and fire-prevention, state lands commissioner Peter Goldmark said the forests were unhealthy.
“Our forests are sick. They’re vulnerable to fire,” he said in an interview earlier this summer.
Unhealthy forests, dry conditions and a start (usually lightning or human-caused) are the recipe for fire.
4. How to protect your home
If a fire comes quickly, are you prepared? Tips to reduce wildfire risk:
• Clear any buildup of pine needles, leaves and other flammable materials from your roof, gutters, porch and under your deck.
• Trim larger trees’ limbs to heights of at least 10 feet. Make sure there is about 5 feet between branches of other large trees.
• Weed-whack or mow long grass around your home. Ideally, you want to have at least 30 feet of short, watered lawn around your home.
• Move wood piles more than 30 feet from your home.
• Remove propane tanks from within 30 feet of your home. In a wildfire, they can vent and shoot flame vertically.
• Install visible house numbers on your home, driveway and street.
• Repair shingles, tiles and other roofing material.
• Use metal mesh (1/8-inch mesh is good) to prevent embers from landing in vents and eaves and under decks.
• Know your family’s emergency plan if a wildfire comes quickly.
5. Governments routinely spend more than is budgeted on wildfires
The U.S. Forest Service spends more than a billion dollars each year on suppressing wildfires. Since 2002, the Forest Service has gone over budget fighting wildfires in all but two years.
A Forest Service report last year showed the agency went from spending 16 percent of its budget on fire management in 1995 to 42 percent last year.
The state Legislature routinely has to add more funds to cover its wildfire-suppression budget.
6. Nationally, this is a bad season (but Alaska skews the numbers)
Nationwide, wildfires this year have burned more than 7.2 million acres so far this year. That’s nearly twice the 10-year average — and the season’s not over.
But those numbers are skewed by Alaska’s monster fire season. More than 5.1 million acres have burned this year in Alaska, according to the state’s forestry department.
Things are cooling down up north, and some Alaska fire crews are heading to help in other states.
7. This could be a record year for Washington
In 2006, nearly 400,000 acres burned in Washington, according to data from the U.S. Forest Service. NIFC data shows more than 326,000 acres have burned in active fires. That figure doesn’t include fires from earlier in the season. The fires burning now are expected to grow.
8. Thousands of firefighters are working in Washington
At least 4,300 firefighters are working on Washington’s large fires, according to figures from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NICC).
9. What is a large fire?
According to the NICC, a fire burning in timber is large when it reaches 100 acres. A fire burning in grassland is large when it reaches 300 acres.
10. What happens to the animals?
National Geographic reports some wild animals are able to take shelter or outrun the fire. Others will succumb to smoke or heat. The magazine says fire has not wiped out an entire population or species.