TACOMA, Wash. - You can get a nice view of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades from Point Ruston in Tacoma while enjoying clear skies and warm, dry weather. But according to the state Department of Natural Resources this warm spell could mean an early return of the smoke filled skies of last summer's wildfires.
It's already been a bad year for wildfires. March saw wildfires on the west side of the Cascades because of dry weather before spring started. A fire danger map from the National Interagency Fire Center shows the areas with the highest potential for wildfires in red and right now, the only red areas in the continental United States with above average fire danger in May are Washington and Oregon, west of the Cascades, and the deserts of southwest Nevada and Arizona.
“Right now, we’re preparing for the worst,” said George Geissler, the Washington state forester and deputy supervisor for wildfire and forest health at DNR. Geissler said fire season in Washington is beginning earlier every year. The warm spell people are enjoying now is helping create a wildfire threat we usually don't see until mid- to late summer.
“Those higher temperatures are actually drying out the fuels tremendously,” Geissler said. “And when I say fuels, I’m talking about grasses, the limbs on the ground and everything.”
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Geissler said the dryness of those fuels in early May are similar to what foresters usually see in mid-August. That means forests are already tinder dry and wildfires could spread rapidly.
Everette Adams of Browns Point was enjoying the weather and views and said he remembers the abrasive smoky air of last summer and isn't looking forward to a repeat of it this year.
“That’s not a good thing,” Adams said. “It was hard for us to come outside and enjoy this.”
Geissler says public awareness and greater care could help avoid a repeat of last summer’s smoky invasion. Some 80 percent of the wildfires in western and eastern Washington were started by people being careless in wildland areas.
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