Wildfire season is Washington’s worst

730,000 acres have burned, and it's not over yet

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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Donation drive aims to aid fire crews, victims

Donation drive aims to aid fire crews, victims

This year is the state’s worst fire season on record, and it’s not over yet.

An estimated 732,608 acres have burned, with 13 uncontained fires still raging across the state.

The Okanogan Complex fire is the largest wildfire the state has ever seen, at 280,267 acres as of Wednesday morning.

“It’s a horrific number,” said Peter Goldmark, the state Department of Natural Resources director. “It’s been a wildfire season of enormous proportion and consequence and impact on people.”

Before this summer, last year was considered the state’s worst fire season. The Carlton Complex wildfire that year was then the biggest in state history, burning more than 250,000 acres.

The first bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed during the 2015 legislative session was a supplemental budget that helped pay a $218 million tab accrued from fighting last summer’s wildfires and responding to other natural disasters, such as the devastating Oso landslide.

The department of natural resources is too busy fighting fires to know what the supplemental budget request will be this year, but it likely will be a hefty bill.

Goldmark said his department’s staff and resources are stretched thin.

Lawmakers approved $1.2 million of the $4.5 million Goldmark sought this legislative session. It was money he hoped to use to boost staff and buy new equipment.

The agency has been overwhelmed by the number of volunteers and people offering support. But, Goldmark said, it would have helped to have more resources initially to help prevent some of the fires from growing to such a magnitude.

“Think about it in this fashion, if I have enough staff to dispatch, some fires don’t go under-resourced or we don’t say we can’t get to them because we don’t have the staff and equipment,” he said.

Fire personnel from across the state, including Clark County fire agencies, and local Red Cross volunteers are helping with wildfires around the Northwest. Many of the local fire fighting personnel worked to contain the Kettle Complex wildfire, which burned more than 45,000 acres in the Colville National Forest.

With Labor Day, a popular camping holiday, on the horizon, state officials are warning people to be careful when it comes to fire. A statewide burn ban also is in effect.