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News / Clark County News

Fire officials anticipate “challenging summer”

Firefighters training earlier than usual for wildfire season

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: April 27, 2015, 5:00pm

o Homeowners can take advantage of the dry weather by trimming trees and bushes to keep them away from the house. This helps protect homes from wildfires or brush fires.

o Learn more about Washington’s drought at www.ecy.wa.gov/drought.

The state Department of Natural Resources is getting a jump start on the wildfire season by enlisting and training firefighters earlier than usual.

“We’ve had to make sure we’re ready sooner than normal,” said department spokesman Joe Smillie. “We’re expecting a challenging summer.”

o Homeowners can take advantage of the dry weather by trimming trees and bushes to keep them away from the house. This helps protect homes from wildfires or brush fires.

o Learn more about Washington's drought at www.ecy.wa.gov/drought.

With the statewide snowpack around 20 percent of normal, the forests may be drier than normal as summer approaches. Typically, when the snowpack melts it moistens the ground and trees, but apparently that won’t happen this year.

Wildfire danger around the state is low right now, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. And typically, wildfire danger is lower in Clark County than the east side of the state, Smillie said. Gov. Jay Inslee expanded Washington’s drought emergency on April 17, designating Southwest Washington and all of Clark County as drought declaration areas.

Smillie wasn’t sure if more wildland firefighters will be hired this season than in prior seasons. The state can get help from neighboring firefighters in Oregon and Idaho.

Wildfire preparation meetings are happening around Eastern Washington. The closest meeting is happening April 30 in Lyle, about 80 miles east of Vancouver along the Columbia River Gorge.

“This year, we’re not sure entirely what to expect because of the unusual weather,” Smillie said. “That’s the thing with fire; it’s unpredictable. You have to prepare for the worst.”

In one school of thought, fire officials think a dry season is bad because the vegetation will burn easily. Other officials think a wet winter means vegetation will flourish, offering more fuel for fire once it gets hot.

Firefighters at Clark County Fire & Rescue recently wrapped up their annual wildfire training. Going out to wildfires has its benefits; firefighters gain valuable experience they wouldn’t be able to get in Clark County, and then bring that knowledge back home, said Battalion Chief Tim Dawdy.

“All the indicators are that it’s going to be a dry season,” Dawdy said. August and September are the most critical months for fire danger, because that’s when there tend to be dry, east winds, he said.

Steve Wrightson, chief of Fire District 3, said the recipe for a bad fire season is east winds, humidity below 30 percent and high temperatures. While there are concerns that the area will be in for a dry season, it could rain all summer, Wrightson said. So, it’s hard to predict what the summer will be like.

Wrightson will likely send firefighters to help out with state wildfires as he usually does — that is, if the local fire season isn’t active.

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Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith