Wildfire data confirms 2020 a year of destructive blazes


The 2020 wildfire season was among the most devastating seasons on record, according to the Department of Natural Resource (DNR) wildfire data collected by KING-TV. The blazes that dominated headlines over the summer claimed a life, burned hundreds of thousands of acres, destroyed homes, created unhealthy air quality conditions, and marred the skyline with smoke.

In only one other year, 2015, the year of the Okanogan Complex Fire, were there more acres burned from wildfire. In addition, the years of 2020 and 2015 are the only two years on record where wildfires fires destroyed more than 500,000 acres, KING-TV also reported.

And just as the global pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives, the public health crisis also may have had a bearing on wildfires. State officials expressed some concern on whether the COVID-19 pandemic would hinder firefighting training and response earlier in the year. Gov. Jay Inslee announced in June that fires could take up to 25% longer to suppress due to COVID-19-related precautions and safety measures for crews.

With roughly 600 year-round and seasonal employees, state officials also noted that they’d have to adjust the size of the camps, transportation for wildland firefighters and other aspects of living quarters to ensure social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and a potential outbreak in one of the camps.

And for the first time ever, the most common cause of human-caused fires this year came from burning yard waste. The DNR responded to a record number of yard debris fires that were brought on by hot, dry weather conditions and more people spending their days at home due to the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

The increased intensity and occurrence of wildfires is a likely trend on both sides of the Cascades as Washington state continues to experience warmer, drier summer, according to a Crosscut article looking at DNR wildfire data from 13,452 wildfires from 2008 to this year.

DNR assistant division manager of plans and information for wildfire, Angie Lane, said to Crosscut that “regardless of climate, everyone can try to keep fires in their personal lives from getting out of hand – by double-checking their debris piles before walking away, making sure campfires are put out before going to sleep or checking to see if a burn ban is in place.”

2020 Wildfires by the numbers:

  • 1,857: The number of fires the Depart of Natural Resources responded to
  • 31%: The percent of fires west of the Cascades
  • 713,328: The number of acres lost to wildfire
  • 85%: The percent of wildfires were human-caused, both accidental or intentional
  • 15: The number of fires started by children this year