Rain hasn't made risk of wildfires disappear

Fire officials caution residents about ongoing dangerous conditions

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Don't light that bonfire.

Fire officials say that recent rain in Southwest Washington shouldn't lull residents into a false sense of security about the risk of wildfire.

"Suddenly, some folks think the fire danger is over," said Chuck Turley, who runs the Department of Natural Resource's fire program for seven counties in Southwest Washington.

"Even though we had all that rain, we are still getting new ignitions."

He pointed to recent fires off state Highway 14 in the Columbia River Gorge area and in Glenoma, a small community in Lewis County. Clark County's burn ban began July 15 and remains in effect "until further notice."

Outdoor burning on state-protected land is also prohibited.

Grass, leaves and pine needles soak up water during periods of heavy rain like the area experienced last week. Once the rain stops, they quickly dry out, Turley said.

Trees and brush don't soak up water from sporadic heavy rain events, so they also continue to carry fire potential.

"They're so dry, and the humidity is so low in them right now," Turley said.

A high-pressure system should bring warmer, dryer weather to the area next week, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which coordinates state and federal agencies in wildland fire management.

The system will likely dry out vegetation, creating more fire danger. There's also the potential for lightning strikes beginning this weekend.

Although the southwest may not be the hottest or driest area in Washington, its windy conditions can fan the flames of wildfires.

It takes constant rain, the kind Southwest Washington gets in the fall, to lower the fire danger, officials said.