Thursday, December 8, 2022
Dec. 8, 2022

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Dry November begets wildfires across the state

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CENTRALIA — With a dry November, not even previous rainfall or below-freezing temperatures could stop a swell of over a dozen fires across Western Washington, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The agency described the smattering of late November fires as “uncommon.”

Three of those in the last week have been in Lewis County, while others were scattered across the rest of the western side of the Cascades, even as far north as Neah Bay. Two fires in the Olympic Region and one in the Pacific Cascade Region — which spans Lewis, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Clark and Skamania counties along with most of Grays Harbor County — caused evacuations late last week and over the weekend. Throughout the Pacific Cascade Region, no injuries or damage to structures took place due to the blazes, according to Janet Pearce, a spokesperson for DNR.

The largest in Lewis took place about 6 miles southwest of Randle, according to DNR information provided to The Chronicle and posted on the agency’s Twitter account. It was named the Footrot Fire after its host harvest unit. It grew to 50 acres over the weekend and was started by a slash burn that got out of control on industrial timber land.

Pearce said a slash burn in this instance refers to forest management practices, usually when a small forest landowner who burns debris piles.

The Footrot Fire is currently in patrol status and is being staffed daily by the landowner, which is in the process of mopping it up, according to a DNR update.

“Unfortunately this weekend the wind picked up,” Pearce said, adding “They have certain things on the (burn) permit they have to follow, including wind. So, who knows?”

Likewise, an estimated 20 acres of forest burned south of Pe Ell due to an escaped slash fire. Named the Huckleberry Fire, it is staffed with landowner resources and DNR is performing compliance checks on the area.

Five acres of land near Riffe Lake also reportedly burned late last week. The incident was named the Riffe Fire. Lewis County Fire District 4 in Randle was first called in for the hot spot, according to the fire station office. The fire took place on Port Blakely land, so Randle handed it off to DNR and the landowner, the office reported. The fire had not increased in size as of a Monday morning update.

According to an email from Jeff Bortner, the Pacific Cascade Region wildland fire district manager, strong winds, clear skies and low humidity were to blame for the several blazes.

“It’s amazing that we’re still dry even with that moisture that we did have,” said Pearce, later adding, “This is not a common occurrence but we are expecting (late season fire frequency) to increase as seasons are getting longer.”

On the upside, Bortner wrote, rain in the forecast for Tuesday should aide firefighting efforts, especially given it has been two weeks since the majority of the region last received measurable precipitation.

The Southwest Clean Air Agency, which covers Southwest Washington, states on its website that seasonal burn bans last typically from July through September.

But, with the recent dryness, high winds and low humidity, the agency has called on a stage one burn ban, meaning a postponement of recreational fires and other restrictions.

Get additional information about burns in Lewis County at www.lewiscountywa.gov/communitydevelopment or by calling the 24-hour automated information line at 360-740-1133.

Follow along with wildfire updates from DNR at https://twitter.com/waDNRfire.

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