United States — In sheer numbers of acres, this was the worst wildfire year Washington has seen since 1994, regional wildfire officials say.
Preliminary figures as some fires still burn show more than 382,000 acres have burned this year, far more than the 58,000 acres lost last year. Still, in 1994 a half-million acres went up in smoke.
Reasons vary for this year’s large fires. But mostly it was a hotter, drier summer than in recent years, combined with a lot of lightning strikes and human error.
There were more than 1,350 individual fires, creating dwindling resources to fight them all.
“There was a point in August where we were concerned,” said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which sends crews to wildfires in Oregon and Washington. “This year, fires were still burning in the Southwest, Montana and Idaho when our fire season started, so we had to prioritize our people.”
Fire agencies had to rely on military and international help. In some cases, they simply had to sit and wait.
As the Flick Creek fire burned near remote Stehekin, Chelan County, crews trained for rough terrain weren’t available, and about 100 residents wondered whether they would have to evacuate. Northeast of Winthrop, the Tripod fire quickly grew to a dangerous size, forcing some crews off the fire line. That fire has now burned more than 175,000 acres and is now only 70 percent contained.
And for the first time in years, wildfires weren’t confined to Eastern Washington. Crews went to the Olympic Peninsula and the western slopes of the Cascades. Residents in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia reported seeing smoke from the Carbon Copy fire, which burned on private land outside Mount Rainier National Park.
Now rain has started falling, and fire crews are getting a respite. “The knowledge and skill of these fire managers, as well as a little luck, seems to have gotten us through,” Mills said.