What the DNR expects the 2022 Washington wildfire season to look like

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The Washington Department of Natural Resources expects a more “normal” season than last year, but is still preparing additional resources.

SEATTLE — The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it hopes this fire season will be less intense than last year thanks to heavy rainfall and melting snowpack, though it’s still preparing intensively and asks everyone to do what they can to avoid causing fires in the first place.

Other researchers shared similar expectations.

As a lifelong Seattleite, Crystal Raymond said she remembers the wet, cold springs of years past, and it was interesting and different from the past two years.

“It’s great to have this rain with the drought that we have across the northwest, but also to recognize the fact that things could change very quickly,” said Raymond, climate adaptation specialist at Climate University of Washington Impacts Group. “So we don’t want to let our guard down in August and September.”

Raymond said a strong La Niña and favorable conditions this spring have helped moisten vegetation and ease the drought in some areas, though there may be places that are even more prone than others.

It is also important to note the impact of increased rainfall on fuel for the fire. Raymond said in eastern Washington, for example, spring rains can boost brush and grass, but when that dries out in the hot summer, it can lead to more fire potential than in environments with high forest density.

MNR held a briefing on Thursday about ongoing preparations for the fire season and what is expected based on current weather conditions. A meteorologist shared that a strong La Niña played a role in the precipitation, and that additional precipitation and heavy snowfall almost completely alleviated drought conditions west of the Cascades. Still, summer could bring hot, dry conditions, and the fire season is expected to peak later in the summer.

The DNR said it has 120 engines planned to tend the fires this year, as in 2021. It is using funding from lawmakers to create a fleet of bulldozers to help build fire lines, although there are had supply chain issues with transportation.

The department is actively recruiting operators. The funding also meant money for three more 20-person teams, which MNR plans to analyze in 10-person teams to be dispatched to different regions. Other recruitments and trainings are in progress.

Most fires are human-caused, with burning debris being the No. 1 reason, according to MNR. If people need to burn, they should obey burning bans, be aware of weather conditions and keep piles small, MNR said.

The second leading cause of human-caused fires is recreational or ceremonial burning.

As MNR prepares to fight the fires, it asks everyone to limit activities that could cause them in the first place.

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