Washington’s wildfire season off to an early start

Sleepy Hollow Fire map

3-D map of the Sleepy Hollow Fire in Wenatchee, Washington, looking west, 1 a.m. PT, June 30, 2015. Note the spot fire near the river that is 1.2 miles east of the main fire. (click to enlarge)

The Sleepy Hollow Fire that swept into Wenatchee, Washington destroying 29 homes announced the early beginning of the wildfire season in the state. A spot fire 1.2 miles in front of the main fire that for a while was not noticed while structures were burning on the other side of town, spread into four industrial buildings.

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the fire and the current situation in Washington that has led to concern about how the state will deal with the conditions this summer, and beyond. Below are excerpts from the article:

…”This is a stress test for 2070,” said Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “We’re being tested now with the warmth and lack of snowpack that will be typical at the end of the century. How do we get through it?”

Climate experts say the current conditions in the Pacific Northwest are part of a short-term climate phenomenon, but they warn that temperatures are rising everywhere. In Seattle, for example, that means warmer, wetter winters and warmer, drier summers.

[…]

Two months ago, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency, a snowpack drought rather than a precipitation drought. At the time, state officials warned that the 2015 fire season could be earlier and fiercer than Washington has ever seen.

Now that it has begun in earnest, “it’s worse than I feared,” Goldmark said.

[…]

Sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck in front of what had been her home of 18 years, Sharon Cooper marveled Wednesday that all of the precautions she and her husband, Nick, had taken through the years did no good against the Sleepy Hollow fire.

Not the concrete shingles. Not the backyard fire hose with high-pressure water. Not the regular efforts to whack away the brush.

“This is August kind of stuff,” Cooper said, mourning the community’s loss, wondering whether she and Nick would rebuild. “Even sometimes the Fourth of July is rainy and yucky here…. Everything’s changing.”

Another article worth your time is titled Large, early blazes in unusual places are shaping this year’s wildfire seasonThe piece in the MinnPost looks at the general wildfire situation in the United States and Canada. A brief excerpt:

…As of Monday, according to the CBC, Saskatchewan had 112 active fires across the province, bringing the year-to-date total to 569. That’s nearly three times the tally for 2014, and the acreage in flames is 10 times a normal year’s.

The newest fires near La Ronge, toward the northern fringe of settlement in the province, prompted evacuation of 8,000 more people, bringing to 13,000 the number waiting out the battles in emergency shelters — the largest evacuation in provincial history. More than half of them had to be lodged in neighboring Alberta…

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Leaf blower as a firefighting tool

Manchester leaf blowers

A photo from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website showing firefighters using leaf blowers on a grass fire.

On one of the pages of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website that features wildfires, there is some praise for their “new Forced Air Firefighting Units (FAFU)”, also known as leaf blowers:

Manchester leaf blower

Though they may be new to firefighters in the United Kingdom, leaf blowers have been used on fires in the southeast United States for decades. I have had a little experience with them and found that they can be very useful for building fireline in hardwood litter. A brief trial in directly controlling an active fire found that they can be tricky to use. You have to be very careful where you point that high-velocity stream of air because burning embers are constantly in motion and when airborne they can sometimes land in an undesired location. And wind direction is key.

I’d like to hear from firefighters that have more experience using leaf blowers in a fire management operation.

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Music video about Carlton Complex Fire of 2014

The song and the photos in the video are about the largest wildfire in the recorded history of Washington — the 256,108-acre Carlton Complex of Fires. In July, 2014 it burned approximately 300 homes in and around the towns of Pateros and Malott as well others in more rural areas.

The video is very well done, beautifully sung by Brittany Jean, and is quite moving.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim.

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Interesting smoke and cloud photos

We ran across these photos on Twitter:

Peter Quinlan is a meteorologist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Continue reading

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Precipitation, last 30 days — dry in the Northwest

Precipitation percent of normal, last 30 days

Precipitation percent of normal, last 30 days. July 6, 2015. NWS.

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) distributed this image, and wrote:

The % of normal precip for the last 30 days. Much of the US has been wetter than seasonal average for June/early July.

And, some areas have been much drier than normal, including northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and northwestern Montana.

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Wildfire smoke worsens in north-central United States

wildfire smoke map

Map of smoke from wildfires in Canada, at 2 p.m. MT, July 6, 2015

The wildfires in Canada continue to pump smoke into the north-central United States and the midwest, deteriorating the air we breathe. Some air quality monitoring stations in South Dakota and Minnesota are reporting conditions that are “Unhealthy” [for everyone] and “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”. North Dakota only has one station in the entire state that reports to AirNow, and that is in the extreme western part. If there were any in the central or eastern area, they would show some pretty nasty air.

The smoke is reflecting some sunlight, causing temperatures to drop below what they would be if the air was less polluted.

Wildfire Smoke forecast

Wildfire Smoke forecast for 5 p.m. MT, July 6, 2015.

wildfire Smoke Graphic

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