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Fire risk unusually ‘extreme’ in Western Washington – higher than Eastern

by Abby Acone, KOMO-TV News (Seattle) |

In a highly unusual twist, Western Washington now faces a far-greater risk for above-average wildfires this summer than most of Eastern Washington.

Cooler weather and rain doused chances for wildfires Tuesday, but firefighters said conditions are still a lot drier than they would like. In fact, one said our vegetation is already as dry as what we typically see in mid-July. Severe drought conditions and a below-average snowpack mean a higher-risk wildfire season. Lt. Brad Chaney with South King County Fire called it "extreme.”

I asked Chaney if he has ever seen such elevated risk conditions for Western Washington in his career.

Chaney said, "No, I haven't. This year is significantly worse and of course we've noticed a trend that it continues to get worse every year."

Lt. Chaney worries homeless camp fires can quickly grow out of control.

"This year in particular it's just been a lot drier than usual and so we've noticed a lot more just regular small brush fires, and then of course, the larger wildland fires that are going to be affecting the entire west side," Chaney added.

A combination of overgrown forests and the high population makes potential wildfires even more dangerous. Josh Clark, a meteorologist for the Department of Natural Resources, said fires here in Western Washington could be more costly and complicated.

"We have overstocked forests. We have very dense vegetation and now we're introducing not only dense population, dense infrastructure, but the potential for burning. So, all of these factors are kind of coming together to bring about that significant risk of fire," said Clark.

Neighborhoods and fields close to freeways have a far higher chance wildfires than other places, due to people throwing cigarette butts as they drive. Between 70 and 80 percent of wildfires are started by people.