Rainfall over the last two weeks has slowed or in some cases, ended the wildfire season in some areas.
On October 19 we ran the numbers for the accumulated precipitation for the last 14 days in the western states. These maps show amounts that exceeded 0.05 inches at some of the Interagency Remote Automatic Weather Stations (RAWS).
Washington, Oregon, and northern California have received a good soaking and I would imagine that local fire officials may be declaring an end to the fire season. Of course this is not unusual for these areas this time of the year, and some locations had already seen their season end. But what IS unusual, is the high amount of moisture that occurred in just two weeks.
You can click on the images to see larger versions.
This video shot by Big Rock Farms in Valleyford, Washington at the Yale Road Fire is an example of how a large fire whirl can very quickly spread a fire in flashy fuels.
KHQ.com described the action (you might hear a four-letter word or two):
Jay Cronk is driving a tractor through a field, attempting to lay a fire line with flames just feet away, when suddenly, the fire takes over, forcing Cronk to race away before the fire reaches the combine and the fuel tank.
Melanie Steele, Brandon Cronk and Dean Walker are the ones you hear behind the camera shouting, “Pull away! Pull away!” as they sit anxiously in another vehicle on a nearby road.
Someone also says:
You see why you don’t want to get in front of that?
The Yale Road Fire 12 miles south of Spokane forced dozens of residents to evacuate and destroyed 10 homes. As of August 25 it had burned approximately 5,791 acres. Along with the 341-acre Wellesley Fire it was part of the Spokane Complex.
…Jamie, a female chimp [at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest], let out a soft high-pitched call when she spotted a plume of smoke rising outside of the sanctuary center’s playroom. The other chimps turned their heads to look. Then, the human caretakers noticed and dialed 911. Staff scrambled, got all the chimps inside and safe, turned on emergency sprinklers and evacuated staff…
And now we hear that a cow elk has been visiting with firefighters, making her rounds “giving kisses to each firefighter and officer” at the Incident Command Post.
An investigator’s report on the cause of the fatal Twisp River Fire revealed that a tree branch contacting a power line ignited, dropped to the ground, and started the fire west of Twisp, Washington.
Three firefighters for the U.S. Forest Service were killed inside their vehicle August 19, 2015 when they were attempting to escape from the rapidly spreading fire. A fourth firefighter exited the vehicle and ran to safety. He was severely burned, but survived, hospitalized for three months. The deceased were Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31. The injured firefighter was Daniel Lyon, 25, of Puyallup, Washington.
The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the investigation report through a public records request. The entire 38-page document can be seen here.
The bill would relax some air quality and permitting regulations so as not to impede measures necessary to ensure forest resiliency to catastrophic fires.
Above: a firefighter watches the progress of the Whaley prescribed fire in the Black Hills National Forest near Hill City, South Dakota, January 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Lawmakers have introduced a bill in the Washington legislature that would allow more prescribed fires in the central and eastern parts of the state. House Bill 2928 could reduce the number of projects that are disapproved due to air quality regulations.
The goal is to encourage forest managers to reduce the amount of fuel that would be available during a wildfire, or as the bill states, “ensure that restrictions on outdoor burning for air quality reasons do not impede measures necessary to ensure forest resiliency to catastrophic fires”.
If a prescribed fire were to be disapproved due to air quality concerns, the officials would first have to take into account “the likelihood and magnitude of subsequent air pollution from an unplanned and uncontrolled fire if the burn permit is refused, revoked, or postponed”.
In addition, burn permits would be issued that span multiple days for forest resiliency burning. A burn permit spanning multiple days would only be revoked or postponed midway during the duration of the permit when necessary for the safety of adjacent property or upon a determination that the burn has significantly contributed to a violation of air quality standards.
On February 16, the bill passed the House on a unanimous vote.
On February 29 at 12:30 p.m. a hearing on the bill is scheduled in the Senate Committee on Ways & Means.