Extended forecasts continue to predict a busy fire season as dry, warm weather settles in the area, and state officials and meteorologists warn of the ease in which a wildfire may be sparked in such conditions and the adverse effects high temperatures can have on vulnerable populations.
“Our firefighters are concerned that we may see more wildfires this week due to rising temperatures and higher wind speeds,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, in a Department of Natural Resources press release. “With 71 percent of our state experiencing drought effects, and no rain forecasted, we all need to be extremely cautious when outdoors.”
The press release was distributed Monday, and warned of Wednesday’s temperatures that, in places, may hit 20 to 30 degrees higher than the average in Western counties.
Reid Wolcott, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said that while the temperatures may be higher for a few days — with temperatures inching toward 90 on Tuesday and expected to exceed 90 on Wednesday — a cool-down is expected to be right around the corner, with temperatures in the Twin Cities area expected to drop down to 80 on Thursday and 72 on Friday.
“So it’s a quick-hitting little spell of heat,” he said.
And while a “quick spell” by itself doesn’t spell much trouble for wildfire season, an extended dry season does. And that’s the current outlook, Wolcott said.
No extensive wet systems are expected through the month, he said, and as temperatures are warm and conditions dry, plants that could serve as fire fuel dry out and become all the more flammable.
“Increasing winds will accompany the hot, dry weather, which can wreak havoc on any tiny spark. The amount of rain many areas received over the weekend creates taller grasses, which will dry out at an accelerated pace over the week that will serve as fuel for any fire that starts,” reads the DNR press release.
Washington’s DNR, which maintains fire-protection services over 13 million acres of land across the state, responded to 478 fire calls this year, as of Monday.
The DNR press release urges citizens comply with some basic safety tips: Only build campfires when and where authorized; make sure off-road vehicles have functioning catalytic converters or spark arresters; dispose of smoking material appropriately; and remember discharging fireworks or incendiary ammunition is illegal on public land.
Wolcott said when temperatures climb above 80 degrees, temperatures inside parked vehicles can reach above 100 within 20 minutes. It’s not safe for kids or pets to be left inside vehicles in those conditions.
Additionally, there is a risk of heat stroke or exhaustion among more vulnerable populations like children, the elderly or anyone without access to shelter when temperatures are high outside.