BY ANN McCREARY
Warmer than normal temperatures and ongoing drought are expected to produce a wildfire season that begins earlier than normal in many areas of the West, including much of Washington state.
A monthly Fire Potential Outlook by the National Interagency Fire Center said warmer and drier conditions beginning in June will boost the fire potential to above normal for that month, particularly in southern and central Washington.
The report cites climate projections by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center indicating “higher probabilities of warmer than normal conditions for much of the West,” and below normal precipitation in the Northwest.
Severe drought conditions are also predicted to add to the wildfire risk, the report by the Fire Center said.
“Nearly all areas west of the Rocky Mountains, except in the far northern tier, are experiencing both live and dead fuel moistures which are extremely low and raise the probability for severe early season fire activity that will likely continue into summer,” the report predicted.
In the Northwest, the only exception to the unusually dry conditions since the first of the year are western Washington and northwest Oregon. While upper-elevation snow remains adequate over Washington, snowmelt is expected to continue at a higher rate than normal through May.
“Climate outlooks for May through August suggest temperatures continuing at or a bit below average through May and June, then climbing to above normal in July and August.
Rainfall is most likely to continue to be below average across the area except perhaps in western Washington,” according to the fire outlook.
Given the dry conditions, the danger of wildfire is expected to lead to a greater than normal potential for fires in June in the Northwest, with fire season likely to begin weeks earlier than usual for much of the region east of the Cascades, the report predicted.
The Okanogan County commissioners plan to raise their concerns about conditions and practices that they believe may contribute to the increased risk of wildfires when they meet with Methow Valley District Ranger Mike Liu later this month, they said at their meeting on Monday (May 13).
The commissioners and Liu will be meeting to discuss the Forest Management Plan, currently under revision, and several U.S. Forest Service projects in the district.
The commissioners are concerned that reductions in logging and other management practices have allowed forests to become unhealthy, leading to dense stands of trees and insect infestations. They are concerned that the agency has been spending money on fire suppression with no income from timber sales.
Marcy Stamper contributed to this story.