Washington is entering the peak of wildfire season and state officials warn — as one major fire burns in Klickitat County — that the danger is increasing and more fires are likely to ignite.
Hot and dry conditions primed Eastern Washington for the fires, state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said in a news conference Tuesday. And fires on the west side of the state tend to spark more often and earlier each season.
“That doesn’t bode well for us,” Franz said.
Monday’s rainfall offered Western Washington a bit of respite from the wildfire risk, said Matthew Dehr, a wildland fire meteorologist. That break should last up to 10 days. And while the grasslands east of the Cascades will see a drop in temperatures, they weren’t so fortunate as to see rainfall.
“I do think we’re going to continue to see large fires crop up across the landscape,” Dehr said.
While Dehr said Washington’s typical wildfire season peaks in early August, Franz later noted that the risk remained last year well into November. This year, state officials are prepared to face the same conditions, she said.
So far, wildfires have burned a total of about 80,000 acres, or 125 square miles, across Washington this year, Franz said. That includes the more-than-56,000-acre Newell Road fire, which is still burning in Klickitat County and is about 20% contained, she said.
Klickitat County Emergency Management officials expanded evacuation orders Tuesday to include Cleveland and Bickleton from Dot Road, east to Alder Creek, including south of Hale. Those east of Alder Creek to the county line should be prepared to evacuate.
Already the Newell Road fire is larger than any other that sparked in Washington in 2020, Franz said. That was the state’s second-worst wildfire year on record, during which fires scorched about 842,000 acres. The following year was Washington’s third-worst wildfire year, and fires burned nearly half a million acres.
“It’s really a testament to the drought conditions we’re experiencing as well as the fire danger,” Franz said.
State officials declared a drought emergency Monday across 12 of Washington’s watersheds. The warm and dry conditions — exacerbated by climate change — are expected to continue through the summer. Then, this winter, El Niño is expected to push warm, tropical air into the Pacific Northwest, likely cutting into the region’s snowpack and worsening wildfire risk for next year.