With a spate of fast-growing wildfires across Central and Eastern Washington, the state is experiencing its worst fire activity of the year, according to state officials.
With rising temperatures and thunderstorms in the forecast, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and officials with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources at a Friday morning media briefing.
The state has been fortunate so far this year to have had a light fire season, but that could change quickly, Franz said, citing several fires that began this week, including the Cow Canyon fire near Ellensburg, the Vantage Highway fire, the Williams Lake fire and a fire in Lind.
The Lind fire was contained overnight and all evacuation orders have been lifted, she said, after the fast-growing blaze forced the evacuations Thursday.
“Although the fire activity has remained low for this time of year, we cannot forget 2020,” she said. That year, wildfires erupted across Northern California, Oregon and Washington over the Labor Day weekend.
A 1-year-old boy from Renton lost his life in the Cold Springs fire in Okanogan County, thousands of acres were burned and the Seattle area filled with smoke.
Our fire season could “erupt very quickly,” Franz said, urging people to use best practices and extreme care to avoid setting off a blaze.
“Don’t be the spark,” she said.
Matt Dehr, the wildland fire meteorologist for DNR, said the high winds that contributed to this week’s fire activity are expected to abate, but the forecast for next week still raises concerns.
The combination of a long, wet spring that propelled plant growth and last month’s heat wave — with temperatures in the 90s in Seattle for an unprecedented six days and 100-105 degrees in Eastern Washington — created massive amounts of dry fuel for fires, he said.
Add to that a prediction for thunderstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the results could be disastrous.
A low pressure system off the coast is expected to make its way into Washington on Tuesday, bringing the threat of thunderstorms and potentially gusty winds. The hope, he said, is that the system will also bring precipitation, but if not, “the fuel is absolutely ready to burn.”
DNR’s Wildfire Division Manager Russ Lane said seven new fire incident commanders were added to the field during the Pacific Northwest’s rapidly evolving fire situation.
He also gave status reports on several of the state’s ongoing firefights.
The Vantage Highway fire, which had been pushing toward the Columbia River, has changed direction. It is at 30,000 acres and could potentially threaten a wind farm on the west side of the fire, Lane said.
Numerous residences remain threatened by the Cow Canyon fire, which is at 5,600 acres with zero containment, he said.
The fast-burning Williams Lake fire is 30% contained and did not escalate Thursday night due to the “great firefighting there,” Lane said.
The fire in Lind was reported to be completely contained Friday morning with all emergency evacuations lifted.