Wildfire smoke shrouds the Seattle skyline above Lake Union during the summer of 2018.
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Wildfire smoke shrouds the Seattle skyline above Lake Union during the summer of 2018.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Brace yourself: Wildfires are coming

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  • Hilary Franz

If you were in the Seattle area last summer you surely haven't forgotten it: the smoke from wildfires in our state and British Columbia filled the skies for days.

Will we have more of the same this summer?

Washington state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says here are things you should know:

1

Tough summer ahead.

We are already predicting it's going to be a very bad summer. We saw it already in the second week of March.

We had 54 fires, 53 of those west of the Cascades. That is an unprecedented number of fires that early in the year. And so far we've already had 239 fires and we're in early May.

2

Prepping for the worst with what we have.

We are completing hiring 550 seasonal firefighters. We are also completing training about a thousand firefighters for local, state and federal agencies and getting our equipment prepositioned so that they are closer to those areas that we know are going to be more prone to fire.

We have seven helicopters to cover the entire state in fighting our fires. Those seven helicopters all fought in the Vietnam War.

Places like California now have fire seasons that are 365 days of the year. They don't have the resources to share with us. And we found last year when we went out to the world to say we need more aircraft, we need more firefighters, they were all used up because so many states were on fire. In fact we had to get firefighters from Australia.

3

There’s never enough money.

(State legislators approved $50 million more for firefighting for the two years after this, but balked at creating a dedicated fund.)

This year we were successful in getting the most amount of money for wildfire prevention and forest health in Washington state's history. So that will help us treat 50,000 acres of forest and also put two more helicopters and double our firefighting force.

So great news there, but the reality is if every year we are having to come back and beg for dollars to implement our forest health plan, implement our wildfire strategic plan, we will not be successful at truly tackling this issue.

4

More people are living in wildfire country.

It obviously makes it very challenging. We're seeing more and more people moving into that area we call wildland urban interface.

Ideally we'd have people living closer to urban centers and communities so that it is not as destructive to not only their homes but also people's lives.

5

Terrible air quality likely

We obviously last year experienced the worst air quality in the world, from Spokane to Seattle. This is not a new phenomenon for Washington state.

Eastern Washington for the last five, six years has been experiencing some of the worst air quality.

We had 850 fires last year, 40 percent west of the Cascades. That was the new phenomenon. So this has become an entire Washington state issue.

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