Wildfires across western states stretching thin firefighting resources

The Coulee Hite fire, currently burning northwest of Spokane, started Aug. 8. Similar wildfires around the state have stretched thin the resources of firefighting crews.

Photo courtesy of Spokane Fire District 10
The Coulee Hite fire, currently burning northwest of Spokane, started Aug. 8. Similar wildfires around the state have stretched thin the resources of firefighting crews.

Have you looked out at those ridges bordering the Yakima Valley and noticed a fuzzy, gray haze wafting through the air?

Picked up a scent of a sagebrush-like, wood smoke campfire odor?

Chances are you’re seeing and smelling the remnants of one of the many wildfires burning out of control in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently, there are five uncontained, large fires in Washington - along with numerous smaller fires. Officials say firefighting resources are now stretched thin across the entire state.

That’s according to wildfire experts at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Adding to the problem is that wildfires currently raging in Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana have pulled firefighters and air resources to those states. Those bigger fires are commanding national attention. 

That concerns firefighters here in Washington, as the number of human-caused fires continues to rise through a record-breaking summer of drought and high temperatures. 

To reduce that threat, the state’s firefighters are looking to the public for help.

“A very large number of wildfires in Washington are being started by people,” said Mary Verner, DNR’s deputy for wildfire.

“Because conditions are so bad, common activities like operating farm equipment or target shooting can spark fires that turn into major destructive events.

“We need everyone to take the utmost care around any activity that might start a wildfire,” Verner said.

Large wildfires currently burning in the state include the Cougar Creek blaze, which started this past Monday, burning on the southeast flank of Mount Adams.

Other wildfires burning in the state include the Wolverine fire, near Lake Chelan; Paradise, on the western border of Olympic National Park; Baldy, northeast of Colville; and Rutter Canyon, north of Spokane. 

Numerous smaller wildfires pop up daily throughout the state, which require immediate action by crews with engines and helicopters to stop these fires before they grow. 

“Despite the high number of wildfire starts this year, our ability to be aggressive with initial attack has kept the majority of fires small,” said Verner. 

“If we can reduce the number of human-started fires, we will have more resources to fight fires caused by lightning, which we cannot prevent,” Verner said.

As the period of dangerous fire weather continues, the agency moved one of the state’s top wildfire fighting teams to Moses Lake yesterday (Wednesday), in addition to prepositioning crews, fire engines, helicopters and firefighting aircraft at key locations around the state.

Red flag warnings are currently in effect in 18 counties in the state, included here in Yakima County. A red flag warning is issued by the National Weather Service to inform area firefighting and land management agencies that conditions pose elevated danger of wildfire.


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