Seattle, WA – With more 90,000 acres of forested land burning in Washington State alone, and triple digit temperatures becoming commonplace in Oregon and Idaho, no one needs reminding that we’re deep into wildfire season And that goes for both sides of the Cascade range. According to Department of Homeland Security FEMA Regional Director John Pennington, large wildfires west of the cascades tend to be fewer and farther between than those in Eastern Washington and Oregon, but are all the more dangerous when they do erupt.
“Humid air from the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean keeps western forests greener than those east of the mountains. Vegetation is lush, and fuels stay moister,” said Pennington. “But weeks of unseasonably warm weather and virtually no precipitation have dried fuels and slowed humidity recovery. And it’s not just forested tracks. Over a dozen grass fires have snarled traffic on both sides of the Columbia, up and down I-5, SR-14 and I-205.”
And if fires do start – there’s more on the downside of the ledger. Many local reservoirs are low, and state firefighters may be exhausted from weeks of deployment east of the mountains…or still deployed. Densely wooded western forests of cedar, hemlock and fir, once ignited – burn intensely – and make traditional firefighting particularly hazardous.
“Forest perimeters are heavily settled,” said Pennington. “Urban interface areas have expanded along the Cascade foothills, encroached down wooded stretches bordering Puget Sound and up and down the Pacific coast. More infrastructure, more businesses and more people are at risk.”
“We also tend to be more complacent here on the western side of the mountains,” said Pennington. “We haven’t internalized common-sense approaches to pre-disaster wildfire mitigation so prevalent in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho.” But the same precautions accepted in more traditionally recognized wildfire-prone areas could be equally effective here:
- Construct roofs and exterior walls from non-combustible or fire resistant material such as slate, tile, sheet iron, aluminum, brick or stone. Treat wood siding, cedar shingles, exterior wood paneling and other highly combustible materials with fire retardant chemicals.
- Clean roof surfaces and gutters free of pine needles, leaves, and branches regularly.
- Space landscape plants to limit fire from spreading to surrounding vegetation or structures.
- Maintain fuel breaks around all structures.
- Store gasoline only in approved containers, and well away from occupied buildings.
- Store firewood and other combustibles away from structures.
- Keep firefighting tools (such as ladders, shovels, rakes and water buckets) handy, and water hoses connected.
Fire escape and evacuation plans are a must, and should include current phone numbers for emergency service providers, just in case. Property entrances should be clearly posted, and it’s a good idea to ensure roads and driveways are suitable for emergency vehicles (12 to 16 feet wide), with adequate turnaround space.
“And please – everyone – let’s comply religiously with announced burn bans and show mature judgment when barbequing, camping, even operating equipment near flammable brush or dry lawns,” said Pennington. “Even a carelessly discarded cigarette can place lives and property at risk.”