The past couple weeks, wildfires have spread voraciously across eastern Washington State. Starting in Lake Chelan, the wildfires have killed three firefighters, and injured many. While many homeowners have been forced to leave their homes (level 3 evacuation = leave now), some refuse to lose their property and stand their ground. Even here in Seattle, we have witnessed the smoky haze that has blown over from the North Cascades.
The issue with the wildfires is how fast they are spreading. Currently, there are between 8-9 fires. On NPR this morning, only ~10% of the fires have been extinguished.
The other concern is the duration of these fires. Back on June 30th, we posted a blog regarding the wildfires in Eastern Washington. While fires were a large concern (this was when Washington experienced heat in the mid-90’s), they likely did not get sufficient suppression by the firefighters. Or, new fires have arisen since.
Either way, the latest winds have created hotter, more dynamic fire conditions. According to the Seattle Times, 630,000 acres have burned throughout Eastern Washington already. Most firefighters say the haze, smoke, and heat combination is do dreadful that they have to feel their way around.
Firefighters are employing new tactics, including creating fire lines that mark boundaries and “pre-soak” shrubbery to prevent fires from spreading any further. The fires have become so huge that Washington has called in the National Guard. National Guard Blackhawk helicopters have flown in fro Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Minnesota. The fires, however, have been so dense that helicopters have been unable to reach local operations bases, particularly in the Okanogan complex of five fires.
On Sunday, more robust winds have came through– 200 homes have been burned, more than 12,000 buildings are under threat, and the Okanogan complex of blazes has surpassed 244,000 acres, requiring over 1,000 firefighter personnel in that area alone.Currently, there is more than 1,000 miles of active fire in the Okanagan complex.
There are now ~700 members of the Washington national guard working with local firefighters to suppress the blaze.
Some other numbers:
- The Carpenter Road fire in Stevens County grew to more than 35,000 acres. It is spreading to the Spokane Indian Reservation.
- Firefighters are averaging 3 hours of sleep a night. Overall, the fire is turning into a marathon. Hopefully when winds die down and temperatures drop, the fires will dampen.
Another concern of the wildfires has come from spending.
Recently, Eastern Washington was granted $5.7 million to buy 10 new fire engines and hire crews. Lots of the US Forest Service budget, however, has been eaten up by firefighting expenses. According to the Seattle Times, in 2015, this year’s wildfire costs will consumer more than half the agency’s budget. Now, fire agencies are undergoing a practice called “fire borrowing”, in which the Forest Service is raiding other fire service programs to assist in the nearby fires. Overall, there has been over $73.6 million requested by the state Department of Natural Resources for total firefighting funding, $42.9 million requested for fire suppression, $20 million for forest health, and $10.7 million for budget for attack (crew/equipment).
Over 20 years, the cost of wildfires has increased drastically. According to the USDA, back in 1995, only 16% of the US Forest Service’s annual budget went to wildfires. Now in 2015, it is at 52%. In 2025, the projected percentage will be expected at 67%.
Source: The Seattle Times
We hope you have a fun (and safe) summer. Stay away from those wildfires, and we honor every firefighter who is sacrificing his life every day to save the homes and lives of many.
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