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Feb. 3, 2023

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Fires in Western Washington ‘definitely unusual at this time’

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For all the brouhaha over the return of the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest, this November has been unseasonably dry in Western Washington, and the region is feeling the effects.

Dry east winds drove an “uncommon amount” of fires late in the week that personnel with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources have been responding to, and on Saturday, a burn ban was issued until further notice for greater Pierce County due to stagnant weather and rising air pollution. Forecasters predict that rain is coming early this week, including for Tacoma, but it likely won’t last long.

Kayla Mazurkiewicz, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Seattle, said Saturday that a weather system coming in today could bring sprinkles of rain but nothing measurable. There’s more chance for rain Tuesday, including in Tacoma, but then it’s right back to mostly dry days.

“Maybe just some showers on Tuesday, but you know, we’re probably going to get back to clear skies Wednesday through Friday,” Mazurkiewicz said.

The fires the Department of Natural Resources is responding to are relatively small. The closest, the Mineral Creek Fire 10 miles southeast of Enumclaw, was just 20 acres in size on Friday. But the fires are out of season. According to the state’s Emergency Management Division, wildfire season typically begins in early July and ends in late September.

From Wednesday to Friday last week, the Department of Natural Resources also responded to several fires on the Olympic Peninsula near Neah Bay and three fires in Southwest Washington, according to a tweet from the department. The fires on the Olympic Peninsula are less than 10 acres in size, according to the Western Fire Chiefs Association.

Two helicopters and three fire engines were assigned to the Mineral Creek Fire. In the southwest, the Brix Fire, located 11 miles southeast of Long Beach, was 6 acres in size on Friday. The Chinook Fire, 7 miles southeast of Long Beach, was 35 acres large. And the Footrot Fire, 6 miles southwest of Randle, was 50 acres in size.

“It’s definitely unusual at this time, especially November,” Mazurkiewicz said.

The stagnant weather conditions that led to the reinstatement of a burn ban Saturday in greater Pierce County are expected to remain until this evening, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. In a press release, the agency said the conditions could lead to air quality reaching moderate levels unhealthy for sensitive groups.

The burn ban does not include Gig Harbor, Key Peninsula, Anderson Island, and the south Pierce County communities of Roy, Eatonville and Ashford.

During a Stage 1 burn ban:

  • No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified wood stoves or fireplace inserts, unless the homeowner has a previously approved “No Other Adequate Source of Heat” exemption from the air agency.
  • No outdoor fires are allowed. This includes recreational fires such as bonfires, campfires, and the use of fire pits and chimneys.
  • It is OK to use natural gas and propane stoves or inserts.
  • Burn ban violations are subject to a $1,000 penalty.
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