Length of Northwest forest fire season continues to grow

Ashley BachBLOG

A new interactive report from the U.S. Forest Service shows the duration and intensity of last year’s wildfire season in Washington and Oregon, one of the worst in recent memory.

According to KING 5’s coverage of the report: “It was a bad season…it didn’t set a record for how many acres burned but how long the season lasted – firefighters in our region spending 40 days at the highest level of alert.”

From the Forest Service report:

The 2017 fire season was long and arduous here in the Pacific Northwest. We spent a record 40 days at the highest level of preparedness (Level 5) – almost three weeks more than during the severe 2015 fire season. In addition, we had multiple fires that crossed state, regional and national borders prompting multi-jurisdictional and even bi-national fire management with our Canadian neighbors.

If the past several fire seasons have taught us anything, it is to be prepared for everything. Through these demanding seasons, we have learned that we cannot address the growing wildfire problems on our own. Rather, we must strive to collaborate in all facets of preparedness, prevention, response and recovery.

The 2017 Fire Narrative and Timeline tells the story of successes and challenges, and also addresses emerging technology and science that we piloted, such as the Quantitative Risk Assessment, Risk Management Assistance Teams and using Unmanned Aircraft Systems for infrared and reconnaissance flights.

The USDA Forest Service commissioned this narrative summary to capture the full story, not only for historical purposes, but to help the agency continue to learn from past experiences and prepare for future fire seasons.

In the face of changing climate and longer, more expensive fire seasons, the Forest Service is committed to working collaboratively with our partners to ensure communities are prepared and resilient.

As wildfires have grown in intensity around the U.S., lawmakers from both parties in Congress have tried to stop the practice of “fire borrowing,” where the U.S. Forest Service raids its own budget to fight massive wildfires. As the Denver Post editorialized this week, “we are hopeful that 2018 will be the year — with a single party solidly in control of this nation and a common-sense proposal gaining steam in the Senate — that Congress can address this funding crisis” and eliminate fire borrowing.

It should be a simple nonpartisan fix to a budgeting issue that every year strips the U.S. Forest Service of its ability to adequately manage millions of acres of federal land and the trails, roads and structures that allow Americans to enjoy their forests.

…Freeing up resources for better forest management — thinning forests in key wildland-urban interface areas, removing matchstick-like dead timber and treating infestations and disease that threaten forest health — should reduce fire suppression spending in the long run.