Will a wetter spring dampen wildfire season?


Could Washington state’s wetter and cooler than normal spring on both sides of the Cascades dampen the summer wildfire season?

In a recent three-part interview with the AgInfo Network, University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass stated that the cooler and wetter conditions in May and June “gives us a good start” and is creating a “very favorable” situation as we head into the summer months.

Said Mass to AgInfo Network: “It’s delaying the drying. We’re starting the wildfire season with normal or even greater than normal moisture…the chances are we’re not going to have a very bad wildfire season. Chances are it won’t be that smoky or anything.”

Mass noted that the wetter, cooler conditions also apply to Eastern Washington, where wildfires historically are more common and severe.

According to Mass: “If you look at the percentage of average precipitation, the place that’s been the most anomalous the last month is Eastern Washington and Northeast Washington. It’s been overall wetter than normal, the whole state, but the eastern side is one that’s been really wet. That’s actually good because that’s where the wildfires are.”

But even if on balance the state experiences a wetter than normal spring, it doesn’t necessarily equate to fewer wildfires during the summer, the Daily Herald reports. Runoff from snowpack often nurtures surrounding forests, leading to growth and “potential fire hazard.” Coupled with a hot, dry summer, an abundance of undergrowth could fuel wildfires and actually make them more severe.

Said Northwest Region coordinator for the state Fire Defense Committee Eric Andrews to the Daily Herald: Snowpack has little to do with fire predictions. But it has a lot to do with firefighters’ ability to get water out in rural areas. Humidity and wind are the biggest environmental factors in a fire’s severity.

In addition, the state announced in early June that it could take more time to extinguish wildfires due to the additional actions needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among wildland firefighters living in the camps.

That is why Gov. Jay Inslee urged all residents to do what they can to prevent wildfires and protect buildings near forested areas. As of June 4, the state has reported 420 wildfire responses so far this year. Of those 420 wildfires, 145 were caused by escaped debris from burn piles.