With wildfire potential expected to reach above normal by July, land managers are urging recreationists to be careful with campfires this camping season.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday said fire activity projections are above normal for the Northwest through September.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the fire danger is already high in seven counties along the eastern crest of the Cascades and moderate in another 11 counties, most in the eastern part of state.
“The focus of above-normal fire activity during the core of fire season will likely be in the Northwest,” said the report released by Jewell and Vilsack. “As fuels dry in June, expect increases in fire activity and the potential for robust, above-normal fire occurrence in July, August and September. This will be amplified by the lack of snowpack at higher elevations, which should allow the conditions necessary for long-duration timber fires to occur unusually early.”
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The two Cabinet secretaries said the agencies under their control have more than 13,200 federal firefighters ready for the season, along with almost 25 large air tankers and 100 single-engine air tankers.
Around Washington, the Department of Natural Resources has about 800 permanent and 362 seasonal employees to take on wildfires occurring on state-managed lands. The agency also has eight helicopters available each day.
Already, crews are being summoned to fight fires in the state.
On May 30, lightning started a small fire in the Thunder Creek drainage about 8 miles from Colonial Creek Campground in North Cascades National Park. When it was first discovered, the fire was about 15 acres. Within days, it had grown to 103 acres.
Portions of the Thunder Creek and Fisher Creek trails are closed because of the fire.
Last week, there were more than 25 smokejumpers and members of ground crews fighting the fire. Officials estimated containment at 30 percent Tuesday afternoon.
While a relatively small fire, officials decided to battle the blaze rather than let it burn because of the very high potential for fires in the West. The concern was that if the fire grew, enough firefighting resources might not have been available.
In the northeast corner of the state, the 85-acre Hungry Hill is 95 percent contained.
The early start to the season comes on the heels of 2014 when the state saw its largest wildfire, the Carlton Complex blaze that eventually scorched more than 256,000 acres.
The need for campers, anglers, hikers and others to be careful is driven home by the fact that 85 percent of Washington’s wildfires are caused by humans, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
On Tuesday, the department imposed burn restrictions in Northeast Washington. Campfires are allowed only in designated approved campgrounds in Spokane County, northern Lincoln County, and Fire Districts 1 and 2 in Stevens County.
“Washington is in for a very challenging fire season, yes, even on the west side of the state,” said Janet Pearce, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.
She said the agency will really need help from hikers, fishermen, campers and others when it comes to campfires this summer.
“First, find out if a campfire is allowed in your location. Second, never leave that fire unattended, and always make sure it’s completely cool to the touch before leaving or going to bed,” Pearce said.
“It’s imperative that people do this because on Mondays, we get quite a few calls that someone has abandoned their weekend campfire, and it’s escaped into a wildfire.”