Experts say decades of fighting wildfires has actually made them worse

SEATTLE — This year's wildfire season is already in full swing and summer is still more than two weeks away.

In addition to the more than 5,000-acre fire in Grant County, a fire to the north in Alberta has burned more than 700,000 acres.

Experts say we're all going to have to get used to fires and smoky skies.

Smoke from fires in Canada and the eastern part of the state had a huge impact on air quality in the Puget Sound area last year, and experts said we can expect air quality to diminish over time as fires come earlier and linger longer.

Fire has always been part of the ecosystem in the Northwest, but people tried to stop them, and that changed things.

Maureen Kennedy is an assistant professor of sciences and mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma.  She says decades of fire suppression have stunted natural burn cycles, letting forests overgrow, so putting fires out has actually made them worse.

“The wildfires are coming back. And we’re not able to suppress them as effectively, because there are so many fuels, they become that much more hazardous,” said Kennedy.

The cycle of burn and re-growth is natural, but Kennedy says people will now have to play a role in managing wildlands in the future.

“We could have a return of fire to the landscape where it’s a little less severe and a little less hazardous to humans, and we can allow those to burn and recreate the situation where they can be less dangerous,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said with the aid of controlled burns, it could take decades of allowing the natural cycles to return before things improve.