Weekend rain brings needed relief to exhausted firefighters

Wildfires that have plagued western Washington aren’t out, but after a round of rain this weekend the end of this fire season is coming into view.

George Geissler, the WA DNR’s state forester, told FOX 13 that they’d need a few inches of rain to snuff out some of the larger fires. While they didn’t get that amount of rainfall this weekend, more rain is in the forecast. And while the fires aren’t out, most fires – including the Bolt Creek fire – are expected to be fully contained in the coming weeks.

That’s good news, not just for people living near the fires, but for firefighters who have effectively been working on wildland fires since February.

"We’re coming to the point in the year where a lot of our seasonals need to go back to school," said Geissler. "Our full-time they’ve been going 10-, 12-hours a day for a long time. So, we’re also managing cumulative fatigue."

Gage Bailey, a U.S. Fire Service forestry technician, is one of the firefighters who has spent the past several months on the frontlines.

Bailey grew up in Washington, and spent a good chunk of his year here. During the wet Spring he traveled out of state, but in recent months he’s spent more and more time in the Pacific Northwest battling fires in Oregon and Washington.

"I’ve definitely seen the fire season go later in the year," said Bailey. "Being in October and fighting fires, usually it was having to go to California to see them. Now it’s right in our backyard."

Bailey spent the last two weeks working the Loch Katrine Fire near North Bend. It started as a small fire that was set when someone failed to put out a campfire. One night, in blew up to a few thousand acres. Bailey still remembers driving in and seeing the smoke column all the way out in Snoqualmie.

He said a shortage in firefighters makes it harder for everyone to catch a break.

"For a lot of people, especially guys here in North Bend, it’s been a long season. They’re understaffed, and tired."

It’s not getting easier year-to-year. Geissler said he doesn’t refer to a wildfire season anymore. He differentiates it as "summer fire season," noting that we’ve had years where firefighters have battled wildfires all 12 months of the year.

"While climate change is probably exacerbating that, and we’re seeing them on a more potential basis, we’ve already been having early starts in our summer fires season and it’s going much later," said Geissler.