Windy, dry conditions after a long-duration heat wave ignited fire season across Washington this week, but firefighters are ready, fire officials with the state Department of Natural Resources said at a news conference Friday.
Wildfire Division Manager Russ Lane said after a quiet spring, the state expected a quick transition into fire season.
"While that early, wet spring did give us a delayed start to fire season, it also promoted a lot of growth of fine fuels," Lane said. "With our most recent heat dome, those fuels have come online with a vengeance."
More fires are starting daily, he said, with wind causing rapid fire growth.
There are four significant fires already on the landscape.
The Vantage Highway fire, which ignited around noon Monday in Kittitas County, was at about 30,000 acres as of Friday. Lane said the fire was showing movement to the west, threatening a wind farm on that side.
"That's gonna get some priority today for ground resources and air attack, both," he said.
Firefighters have established an anchor point at the Cow Canyon fire burning 11 miles northeast of Naches, Lane said. Responders reported 0% containment of the 5,600-acre fire as of Friday morning.
The Williams Lake fire 11 miles southeast of Cheney was at 1,500 acres and 30% containment Friday, Lane said.
"We had high concerns for that fire yesterday afternoon that it was going to escalate more and go to a Type 2 team," he said. "That did not happen due to some great firefighting there."
That fire is expected to remain a Type 3 as crews make progress toward containment, Lane said.
Evacuations were required for a fire that ignited near Lind Thursday, which burned six homes and eight other structures. Lane said the fire, initially reported at 2,000 acres and growing, was not yet contained but looking good as of Friday.
"There's a good chance to prevent any further impacts to the community in the agricultural resources out there with the Lind fire," he said.
Fire engines were burned over in the Williams Lake and Lind fires, but no individuals were injured, Lane said.
A fifth fire started in Whitman County near the Snake River Thursday and grew to 6,000 acres overnight, Lane said.
"That fire is going to be a challenging fire down on the breaks of the Snake River and some really steep, complex terrain," he said.
Delayed start, more resources
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz put the season in perspective during the news conference Friday.
"I'd say this year to date, we have had a really good and low fire season," she said. "That moisture, those gray skies, those cooler temperatures have really helped on both sides of the Cascades."
In 2021, the state saw 220 fires in the month of April alone, Franz said, and more than 1,875 total for the season.
The state has had 293 fires as of early August, putting the state in a better position for response, Franz said.
"Our firefighters are not exhausted and drained like they were last year," she said. "They're ready to get on the fires quickly, and they're showing it."
Plus, strong initial attacks have prevented all but four of this season's fires from becoming significant incidents, Franz said.
"This helps us reduce the amount of resources we actually need on the ground, as well as the destruction of fires burning," she said.
DNR officials said the state is in a good place when it comes to resources. The state has 691 firefighters, about 21 more than last year.
Franz urged people to be responsible and follow best practices while recreating, hunting and burning yard debris to help prevent fires from starting in the first place.
"Don't be the spark in conditions like these — one might be all it takes," she said.
Wildland Fire Meteorologist Matthew Dehr said the state will get relief this weekend from the high winds that have been blowing across the landscape since the heat wave.
Conditions will remain dry, with relative humidity reaching 10-15%, he said, and temperatures will be high — approaching 100 degrees in Eastern Washington and 90 degrees on the west side.
"Now, with no winds, we're not expecting a large outbreak of new fires," Dehr said. "However, with the dry conditions, active fires will continue to burn."
He anticipated critical fire weather mid-week next week, with potential for thunderstorms and more red flag warnings.
Those storms could bring precipitation to the east side of the state, but they could also bring new fire starts.
"That is something that we're going to be monitoring as we head into next week as the fuels are absolutely ready to burn if any lighting ignitions are possible outside of the rain shafts of those storms," Fehr said.