More heat waves, wildfires, have Everett fighting with new tool

Warm weather, drought conditions have fire departments on high alert

A heat wave for Western Washington means growing concern over wildfires. It comes at a time when 71 percent of Washington State is in some form of drought – some areas severe.

Washington's Department of Natural Resources says it has already responded to nearly 500 fire calls so far this year and warns more could be coming.

“The fire season is coming earlier and staying later,” said Asst. Chief Rich Llewellyn of the Everett Fire Department.

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The department says increasingly, its crews are being called on to help fight wildfires.

Plus, the snowpack this year is melting faster and earlier, which means fires could more easily spread to higher elevations.

“It's significantly below normal in a lot of areas of the state,” Llewellyn said.

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This week, record heat plus wind is creating prime conditions for fire.

“The brush looks green, but a lot of the little underbrush and duff that exist underneath it is extremely dry. It'll burn right now,” Llewellyn said.

Rain last week was just enough to spur grasses to grow tall, but the weather this week is turning it into fuel.

"You can see a change in the ability to burn, even from the morning to the afternoon. It changes 
that quickly," Llewellyn said.

For firefighters, it means more challenges now come with the job.

“We have noticed a lot more activity in western Washington,” Llewellyn said.

The Everett Fire Department just got a new resource to help. It's a new brush engine -- Everett's first -- designed to tackle fire in wildlands.

“It still has that new car smell,” Llewellyn said. “We’ve talked about getting one of these for the last 10-15 years, and it's just finally came to fruition,” he said.

It holds 400 gallons of water, can refill itself from a stream, and has a preplumbed reel that means there's no hose laying required.

"The crew can get out, point the hose quickly, and start spraying water within seconds," Llewellyn said.
But perhaps its most important feature is the access the truck gives crews.

Llewellyn took KIRO7 into an area that’s considered a “wildland urban interface” to show an example of where the truck might be used – wooded areas very close to homes.

“Historically, we've done what we could with what we have,” Llewellyn said. “There are roads here that this brush engine can access that we wouldn't send a typical municipal fire engine up,” he said.

The truck will also be used to help others, and be part of a strike team of five or so engines to go to wherever its needed.

“This is a resource for Everett, this is a resource for our neighbors in Snohomish County, and a resource to send wherever it's needed,” Llewellyn said.

The truck cost about $150,000, but with fees it generates when sent out of county -- it's expected the truck will eventually pay for itself.

Most wildfires in Washington are caused by humans.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources is asking people to be especially careful with putting out cigarettes and camping fires during the heat wave and drought.