With winter rain in the rearview mirror and summer set to officially start in just under two weeks, Thurston County Emergency Management held an executive seminar for county and city officials from throughout Thurston County on Monday evening.
McLane Black Lake Fire Chief Leonard Johnson broke down the main topic of the meeting — the upcoming wildfire seasonal forecast.
While there is some precipitation predicted for June, Johnson said there isn’t much else to be positive about when looking at the National Interagency Fire Center’s significant wildland fire potential outlook. From July to September, virtually all of Washington will be at above normal wildfire potential.
“We are expected to be above normal temperatures all summer long,” Johnson said. “And we are expected to be below seasonal precipitation. Those two combined don’t line up well for us.”
Johnson added that in 2015 predictions were made that Washington’s wildfire fuel sources would start to look like Oregon’s and northern California’s within a decade.
“We are starting to see those fuel models develop in our vegetation,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, wildfire seasons have changed in Washington due to shifts in climate patterns and ocean temperatures.
“I honestly don’t care what your political affiliation is or whether you believe in climate change or not, the environment is changing,” Johnson said.
With high winds and red flag fire warnings already being issued in Western Washington, it’s only a matter of time before major wildfires flare up across the state, Johnson said. To further compound the danger, many Thurston County residents live in heavily wooded and isolated areas.
“More people want to live, not just in the interface where they live adjacent to the trees, they want to live in the trees,” Johnson said.
Because residents have chosen to settle in areas surrounded by abundant fire fuel sources, Johnson warned that should a wildfire come their way, firefighters will prioritize evacuations over trying to protect property.
He touched on the attitude most residents in the region have toward wildfires, mainly thinking wildfires aren’t an immediate threat. With Western Washington’s reputation of excessive rainfall and lush forests, many residents simply assume, even with drought conditions, the wildfire risk is low.
“As long as they think that, they don’t think it’s a problem. They know there’s a threat, but they don’t fully perceive the problem. We’re seeing that start to shift in the conversation because of the number of fires in the Cascades last year,” Johnson said. “The only reason the conversation is changing is because they’re all mad about smoke.”
Johnson also mentioned there have already been three major fires — at least an acre or larger — in the Capitol State Forest west of Olympia.
“Those are pretty good-sized fires for this time of year in a timber forest,” Johnson said.
When it comes to actually fighting the fires, Johnson said suppression is all firefighters can do for large fires, adding that it’s often Mother Nature who finally extinguishes large wildfires with rainfall.
Thurston County Emergency Management Manager Kyle Bustad also spoke at the meeting about the importance of preparing for emergency situations and having supplies and alternative power sources available should a major wildfire cause evacuations and threaten heavily populated areas or important infrastructure.
“You need to be asking yourself how you would take care of yourself for two weeks or longer,” Bustad said.
Food and clean drinking water are priorities, with Bustad adding that each person should have at least one gallon of water a day for drinking as well as hygiene and cooking needs.
For more information on how to prepare for natural disasters and what to have in an emergency kit, visit https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/departments/emergency-management/get-prepared.
To view the National Interagency Fire Center’s significant wildland fire potential outlook for this summer, visit https://www.nifc.gov/nicc/predictive/outlooks/monthly_seasonal_outlook.pdf.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here