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WILDFIRES

This wildfire season, we’re tracking the location of active wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In Washington state, the wildfire season typically runs from June to September and particularly affects the region east of the Cascades, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. More recent data shows wildfires are also increasing in parts of the state where they have been rare in the past, like in the rain-soaked forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

While there is a high risk of wildfires throughout Oregon, the central, southwest and northeast parts of the state are typically worst affected. 

 

Over the past decade, the average number of acres burned annually in Washington and Oregon has steadily increased.

Recent years have brought unusually large and damaging wildfires to the region. While the Carlton Complex fire of 2014 in North Central Washington and the Bootleg fire of 2021 in South Central Oregon were the most destructive in the past decade, wildfires are getting bigger, costlier, more frequent and more intense.

 

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AIR QUALITY

Wildfires also affect air quality and human health — both near the blazes and throughout the region.

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Larger and more intense wildfires are creating the potential for greater smoke production and chronic exposures in the U.S., particularly in the West. 

Check the air quality level and fine particulate matter concentration in your area here:

Source: fire.airnow.gov

Fine particulate matter, the main pollutant in wildfire smoke, is made up of tiny, unburned particles from incinerated materials suspended in the air. They may include particles of acids, inorganic compounds, organic chemicals, soot, metals or soil. They are also several times finer than human hair and are easily ingested deep into the lungs and bloodstream, which can impair vital organs. 

Exposure to wildfire smoke has been associated with a range of health concerns — from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious conditions like bronchitis, heart failure, and even premature death, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Children, pregnant women, and older adults are especially vulnerable. 

Wildfire emissions are known to increase hospital visits, the EPA observed. When the Eagle Creek fire blanketed the greater Portland area with smoke in 2017, there were 20% more asthma-related visits to the region’s emergency rooms and urgent care facilities

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Read more: How to prepare for wildfire smoke in your home, car and while outdoors

 

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DROUGHT CONDITIONS

While over 80% of wildfires are caused by humans, climate change plays a significant role in their size, intensity and frequency. Research shows Pacific Northwest snowpacks are melting earlier in the year, decreasing summer water stocks. The forest fuel buildup of dried soil and vegetation grows during hotter and drier summers, so fires start more easily and are harder to put out. 

Though this spring has been colder and wetter than previous years, easing drought and wildfire conditions in Western Washington, many parts of Washington remain dry, if not drier than usual.

Track drought conditions throughout the state here. The map is updated every Thursday. For more information on current drought levels, visit the National Integrated Drought Information System.

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Current drought conditions across Washington

 

Drought condition types

None

Abnormally dry
Ski season is shortened; visitation is lower

Moderate drought
Fire danger increases. Possible dust storms. River flow is low

Severe drought
Wheat and corn are stunted; harvest is early. Producers feed cows earlier; silage is harder to find. Number of wildfires increases; grasses are brown

Extreme drought
Crop and hop yields are poor; wheat protein content is higher. Unprecedented wildfires occur; calls are issued for citizen volunteers to fight fires; firefighting funds are running out. Tourism is reduced, and recreation is altered

Exceptional drought
Exceptional and widespread crop and pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells create water emergencies