North Central Washington poised to be summer wildfire hot spot - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

North Central Washington poised to be summer wildfire hot spot

Wildland Fire Potential Map for June-August 2009 from the NIFC Wildland Fire Potential Map for June-August 2009 from the NIFC
Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service

BOISE, Idaho - The summer wildfire season is already underway despite the fact that we're still in the midst of a cool, wet spring in most parts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. That's not the case in California and Arizona where early season wildland fires have already scorched thousands of acres.

Firefighters are now beginning to mop up a 13-square-mile fire in Santa Barbara County that destroyed nearly 80 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 30,000 people. Fire investigators believe the Jesusita Fire was started by someone using a power tool to clear brush last Tuesday but they've yet to identify the responsible party. It's just the latest in a string of devastating wildfires which burned nearly a million acres last summer alone.

California is one of four areas poised to become a hotspot for fire activity this year. Arizona, New Mexico and North Central Washington are also on the list released as part of the 2009 Fire Season Outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center. The seasonal outlook considers the condition of wildland fuels, weather forecasts, and climate and drought data.

In North Central Washington east of the Cascades significant fire potential was forecast through August with above-average levels of activity beginning in June as fuels cure and dry early in the fire season. That fire activity will be driven by persistent drought conditions and a below average snowpack. According to the NIFC the snow pack and snow water content for the region is about 70-80% of normal levels. The rest of Washington isn't expected to face such increased danger however the potential for large fire activity is expected during the summer fire season, especially during dry lightning events.

This is especially worrying considering on a national scale we've already experienced above average fire activity this year. The fire outlook forecast reports that based on data this year nationally there have been 131% of the average number of fires and they've burned approximately 141% of the average acres.

In the Northwest through April 30, 2009 there had been 46 fires reported with 123 acres of land burned. The average number of fires for the month of May is 154 with a total of 1,393 acres burned. That puts us on pace for 200 wildland fires and more than a thousand acres burned by the end of this month based on fire forecast models. For the Northwest overall that would be below the average based on the NIFC's model which reports the average total at 215 fires burning 2,057 acres by May 31. That's still a far cry from the worst early season totals reported by the NIFC; 385 fires through May of 2004 and 6,991 acres in an undisclosed number of fires in 2001.
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