State fire officials brace for wildfire season after 500 smaller blazes so far this year

ENUMCLAW, Wash. – With major wildfires in California and Colorado, local officials are warning of similar danger in our area. Washington state fire crews left this weekend to help fight flames in Colorado.

King and Pierce counties have both moderate wildfire danger right now.

“After this Fourth of July weekend, we have been going hard and long,” said Charley Burns, fire unit manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

About 500 fires have been reported already this year across the state.  The light rain showers we’ve seen haven’t washed out our fire risk.  Plenty of brush fires have sprung up just this week in Western Washington along highways and in more rural areas in the eastern part of our state.

“Our firefighters have just gotten out of training and now we’re sending them out,” said Burns.

And that's dangerous work. In 2015 in Chelan County, three firefighters were killed and another was injured fighting a wildfire in Twisp.

"Everybody in that event, I’m convinced, was doing the best they could, and what they did made sense to them at the time. If you’ve been in an event like this, it’s a challenge for many reasons," said Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest official John Phipps.

The best way to help keep our men and women out of harm’s way is by not starting fires in the first place.

Burns said that “90-95% or more are human caused."

There are simple things you can do around your home and property to reduce the risk.

“Cleaning the gutters, cleaning around the house, making sure there’s nothing 10-20 feet (from the house) because one little spark could land on that and it could smolder and start a fire,” said Burns.

Many of the fires along the highway and open fields are made by vehicles or farm equipment.

“A chain dragging on a trailer have caused fires and, again, the exhaust (from a vehicle) and, of course, someone smoking and throwing that out,” said Burns.

Even after rainfall, fire risk remains strong.  Grass is considered one-hour fuel, meaning it can dry out in just one hour and be ready to help flames spread.

“The fire season after that is expected to be long, hot and dry,” said Burns.

So keep our firefighters in mind -- those we’ve lost in the past and those fighting fires now and for the rest of the summer.