By RAELYNN RICARTE
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – While western Washington has had a wetter and cooler than normal spring, that is not the case for the central and southern sectors of the state that are at “above-normal risk” for wildfires.
The National Interagency Fire Center delivered that message in its latest report. The agency says 18 counties east of the Cascade Mountains are currently experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.
A prediction for higher than normal temperatures and below normal precipitation are two factors that can lead to a spike in wildfires, according to NIFC.
With those factors in play, NIFC expects much of the east side of the state to soon be at “significant risk” for wildfires.
Last year, the Northwest region, which includes Oregon, had about 90 wildfires, most of which were human-caused, reports NIFC.
Over half of the fires were in Washington state, with one large wildfire in the northeast burning 442 acres. Most of the wildfires burned fewer than one acre of land, said NIFC officials.
A recent assessment by the NIFC found that roughly one in three properties in Washington, Oregon and California are at risk of wildfires.
To reduce potential catastrophic events, the Bureau of Land Management has imposed fire restrictions on public lands throughout Oregon and Washington. That prohibits the use of fireworks, exploding targets or metallic targets, steel component ammunition (core or jacket), tracer or incendiary devices, and sky lanterns.
BLM said a fine up to $1,000, a prison term up to one year and a bill for the cost of fire suppression are possible if someone is caught violating the new fire restrictions.
Washington’s Department of Natural Resources, the largest firefighting agency in the state, is already readying its personnel and deciding where it will send resources during the summer.
The state agency set a long-term goal in 2017 to reduce wildfires by restoring 1.25 million acres of forest to healthy conditions, which reduces fuel loads.
As of last October, DNR had completed forest health treatments on 363,143 acres across central and eastern Washington.
On Friday, the NIFC reported that nine large fires, five in New Mexico, are currently burning. A total of 606,120 acres is involved and none are contained. In addition to New Mexico, these fires are located in Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and Arizona.
So far in 2022, 26,684 wildfires have burned 1,780,488 acres in the United States.
This is well above the 10-year average of 20,305 wildfires and 838,935 acres burned, says NIFC, which is based in Boise, Idaho, and is the nation’s support center for emergency situations.
The NIFC reports that drought conditions persist across nearly 90% of the western U.S. and the amount of acreage burned this year is 70% above the country’s 10-year average, continuing an upward trend.