Hot, dry weather is posing a heightened fire risk on both sides of the Cascades as Independence Day weekend approaches.
The warmest June on record in the Seattle area — blistering the old mark by more than three degrees — combined with tinder-dry conditions statewide and the approach of a holiday associated with fireworks has forecasters warning of potentially devastating blazes.
“We’re drier now than what we usually see at the peak of fire season. And the season has just started,” said Weather Service incident meteorologist Steve Reedy in Seattle.
The 3,000-acre Sleepy Hollow fire that destroyed more than two dozen homes in Wenatchee this week prompted an emergency fireworks ban by Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, and officials in Cashmere and Leavenworth were scrambling to put similar bans in place. Chelan and Douglas counties both have adopted fireworks bans to cover the counties’ unincorporated areas.
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Janet Pearce, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which protects 13 million acres of public and private land, said the number of fires this year has been alarming.
From Jan. 1 through June 23, she said, 313 fires had been reported on DNR-protected land. In the same period four years ago, 55 fires were reported, and the number has climbed each year since, she said.
Pearce said most of the fires are caused by people, and with the extreme dry conditions, a spark from machinery or a discarded cigarette can easily trigger a fast-moving fire. A burn ban is in place on DNR-protected land, and in national forests.
Ted Buehner, National Weather Service warning coordinator in Seattle, said long-range projections offer little comfort
“There’s no rain in sight of any significance, in Eastern Washington or Western Washington,” he said.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expects Washington state to be warmer and drier than normal through this fall.
Shoreline Fire Chief Matt Cowan, president of the King County Fire Chiefs Association, said elevated fire danger west of the Cascades will make it more difficult for westside fire agencies to send teams to help fight fires in Eastern Washington.
Typically, departments in the Puget Sound area have provided help on fires east of the Cascades, as they did this week, particularly when homes are threatened.
But as the season progresses, the fire threat may be much closer to home, Cowan said.
The Seattle area ended June with an average high temperature for the month of 78.9, soaring past the previous June record, 75.8, set in 1992.
On 13 days, Seattle hit or exceeded 80 degrees, compared with no 80-degree days in June 2014.
Two days during the month set daily high-temperature records at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: 87 on June 8 and 92 on Saturday.
Seattle’s weather data for the month was akin to that of sunny Los Angeles, where June highs averaged 79.1. In fact, L.A.’s high temperature for the month, 91, reached Monday, fell a degree short of June’s hottest day at Sea-Tac.
And the heat keeps coming, setting July on its own potential record trajectory.
Meteorologist Johnny Burg said the warmest July on record at Sea-Tac was in 1958, when the daily high averaged 81.4.
Each day for the next week is forecast to top that mark: 92 on Thursday, 87 on Friday, 87 on Saturday (Independence Day), 94 on Sunday, 88 on Monday, 81 on Tuesday and 82 on Wednesday.