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WA lands commissioner reflects on 2021 wildfire season

The wildfire season in the Inland Northwest is winding down. It was a season that began early and continued with intensity during the heat of July and August. More than a dozen big fires were regularly burning throughout the three states. The Methow and Yakima valleys experienced weeks of smoky air.

We asked Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz to compare the 2021 fire season with the 2020 version, which hit its peak during early September.

Hilary Franz: “Both years started the same. It was largely in the middle and the end that was different. Last year we started to get some cooler temperatures in that July period, then, all of a sudden, we started to go, you know, it may not be as bad as we thought. We knew it was still going to be bad, but it may not be as horrific as we thought it would be. It was that Labor Day firestorm where we had those hurricane-force winds. Everybody’s out on the landscape. We had 56 fires that first day and we had 24 the next, where 620,000 acres burned in 72 hours. This year, what we had was  not one significant, catastrophic weekend. Instead we had one week after another week after another week of catastrophic fires. It started July 1 and it hung all the way through until mid-September, where things started to finally change for us. We were fighting on the landscape anywhere between 11 and 17 significant fires every single day since July 1 to Labor Day. Many of those fires hung on for quite some time, for weeks, as you can see with the 25 Mile fire, the Schneider fire, the Cub Creek fires, Cedar Creek fires. The drought this year was huge, where a majority of the state was in drought-like conditions. The moisture content of our landscape was around 2%, whereas paper is around 5% moisture content. So our landscape was burning faster than paper and we all know how fast paper can burn. And we didn’t get much let up. We didn’t get much moisture on it. It helped that we didn’t have the kind of hurricane-force winds than we did on Labor Day. If we did, it would have been far more tragic.”

Read more on this story at Spokane Public Radio

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