Have we been lucky? Smart? Better prepared? More vigilant? A combination of all those and other factors helps explain why fewer acres have burned in Washington state wildfires this year than in the previous 10 years. That’s after enduring the second- and third-worst fire seasons in state history in 2020 (842,000 acres) and 2021 (484,000 acres). The total number of fires in 2022 is the second-fewest in the past decade. More than 94% of the fires this year have been 10 acres or less, according to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
It isn’t entirely over — which is why we are OK with snow getting here any time now — but so far this year only slightly more than 140,000 acres have burned in 2022, according to the state DNR.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, in a Methow Valley appearance last weekend to help dedicate the new Twisp Civic Building, pointed to this year’s reduced burn as evidence that education, prevention, better equipment, quick and coordinated responses and forest health initiatives are making a difference.
As most fires are human-caused, we got a break this year in that, apparently, fewer humans were careless, while we also escaped the worst of potential weather effects.
In the Methow, the few fires of any consequence were small and, thanks to quick and determined response, controlled before they could do any damage to structures or human beings. Our local responders — including Okanogan County Fire District 6, the U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and DNR — mobilized efficiently to confront the relatively few outbreaks we experienced.
That doesn’t mean the summer was entirely free of fire-related impacts. Smoke from fires in the Pasayten Wilderness Area and North Cascades National Park contributed to consistently poor air quality in the valley, as much a health concern as an esthetic annoyance. And the west side of the state suffered through some of the worst air quality in the world at times this summer. There seemed to be a lot of smoke for not much fire.
At a press briefing earlier this month, Franz said that state legislation which provided funds for upgraded equipment and more firefighters has made a difference not only in resources but in also in more-confident attitudes about tackling fires. The previous two years’ burn totals indicate that we still need be concerned. But being proactive, as state and federal efforts have demonstrated, gives us advantages we did not have before.
Deceptive and deadly
In the “it couldn’t happen here until it does” category, we give you this: fentanyl.
Actually, we’d just as soon nobody gives or sells you fentanyl in its illegal, incredibly dangerous and usually disguised forms. But as was reported in last week’s Methow Valley News, the scourge of fentanyl — which is fatal in infinitesimal doses — is happening right here.
After an investigation by the North Central Washington Narcotics Task Force, a Winthrop-area man was arrested on charges of possessing and intending to distribute illegal drugs, including counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl. He was allegedly doing this out of his home on West Chewuch Road.
Law enforcement officers will tell you we shouldn’t be surprised (they’re not —they’ve been dealing with it for a while). But that’s not to say we should not be alarmed. The devastation caused by fentanyl is nationwide and cataclysmic.
According to an Associated Press story that was published recently in the Seattle Times, “fentanyl and other lab-produced synthetic opioids now are driving an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen. Last year, overdoses from all drugs claimed more than 100,000 lives for the first time, and the deaths this year have remained at nearly the same level — more than gun and auto deaths combined.”
Another recent Seattle Times story noted that 17 people in Washington and California were charged in a federal indictment with “trafficking in methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin brought into the U.S. from Mexico, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington said Wednesday.”
That’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg, law enforcement experts would tell you. Measures to control that traffic are difficult for a number of reasons, including marketplace demand. People taking drugs they think are something else end up ODing on a substance they didn’t know they were using.
What can we do? Get educated, be aware of how fentanyl is masked, and know how to respond to an apparent overdose with Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose from opioids. And look to lawmakers for better solutions.