Washington is ablaze, and we have ourselves to blame. Wildfires exploded across the state this week, scorching about 500,000 acres in mere days.
Most started because of humans, according to Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. The state has seen more than 1,300 damaging, human-caused fires in 2020. That’s vast swaths of Washington devastated because people flouted sensible precautions.
Every individual must do better. Wildfire season has for years been a predictable and growing part of the calendar for much of the American West. Climate change further exacerbates the threat to woodlands and communities. People die. Families lose their homes. Vigilance against errant flames — even sparks — can prevent much of this hurt. That is a universal obligation.
This year, hundreds of wildfires on state land started with recreational fires, debris burning or arson. Late summer is perennially very dry on both sides of the Cascade Mountains. Decades of federal failure to acknowledge and address climate change helped extend that dryness. State government has boosted firefighting and prevention in recent budgets; lawmakers should be wary about draining those resources while making necessary cuts during the next session.
The immediate burden lies with the general public. Vigilance about fire safety must be an everyday concern. From cigarette butts tossed on the roadside to campfires and fire pits, each outdoor spark is a threat to bucolic wild lands, property and life during these long parched weeks.
Every Washington resident and business shares this responsibility. Schools and public-safety bulletins should urgently spread this gospel. The message must be amplified each summer. Years without vast wildfires and spreading smoke have sadly become the exception, rather than the rule.
When people scrupulously observe burn bans and clear dry brush from residential lots, they are protecting their neighbors and our region. As homes have proliferated across Washington’s wildland-urban interface, the chance for inadvertent wildfires has increased. So, also, has the chance that more people will be affected.
Many thousands of people reside in suburban tracts on the edge of forestlands from Bonney Lake to Issaquah and well beyond. More than ever, forest health is everyone’s public duty to protect these blossoming residential areas.
Wildfire smoke will likely float regionwide into next week, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency warned. A 1-year-old child died in Okanogan County. This is the sobering reality: Everyone in Washington must take fire risk seriously, every summer.