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wildfires

Linda Vane from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks examines a stand of Scotch broom, a invasive plant that is highly flammable.
KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

Linda Vane stoops down to pull out a handful of weeds at the edge of a gravel road. The weeds are dry and crumble in her hands. The soil beneath them is dry as well.

"I'm nervous this year," said Vane, who assesses wildfire risk in her duties with the forestry program at the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

Wildfire season in the Northwest has started early this year. Crews are battling the Buckskin Fire right now.

Scientists refer to the Buckskin as a “reburn” because it’s on land that was scorched by wildfire in the recent past. These reburns are a positive indication that the forests are recovering from decades of fire suppression.

Smoke from several warehouses on fire, thought to have been sparked by embers from a wildfire that hit homes on a nearby hillside, fills the sky Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Fire came floating out of the sky into Wenatchee.

“Some of the embers we gathered and posted on social media, I mean, they're the size of a loaf of bread or bigger,” Wenatchee World editor Cal FitzSimmons told KUOW’s Marcie Sillman, describing the scene this week as a wildfire roared down from the northwest.

More than 200 firefighters are working to contain the 4,600-acre Sugarloaf Fire in Central Oregon. The blaze is burning in grassland, juniper, and conifer forest, and was likely ignited by lightning. The wildfire is burning on both private and federal lands north of Dayville.

Part of the fire is within the John Day Fossil Beds. To protect the national monument, firefighters are working to hold the fire and let it burn out, rather than bringing in bulldozers or other heavy equipment.

Oregon Firefighter Trains For A Big Season

Jun 25, 2015

Across the West, wildland firefighters are preparing for a busy season and a hot, dry summer, which is becoming the new norm. As EarthFix reported, more than 1.3 million acres have burned in the Northwest each year for the past three years.

Teresa Brna, 24, is a new seasonal firefighter with the Ochoco National Forest based in Prineville. OPB will check in with her throughout the summer. Recently, reporter Amanda Peacher followed her for a day at "guard school."

Hot weather is coming to the region this weekend, which concerns fire officials. As a precaution, fire managers say they're ramping up resources in anticipation for more blazes.

"I'm sure everyone is aware of the heat wave that is predicted over the next several days," Tom Fields, Oregon's Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Coordinator, said in a statement. "While we're all looking for ways to stay cool, now is not the time to be careless with activities that could lead to a wildfire."

Early Wildfires Blow Budget In British Columbia

Jun 24, 2015

David Hyde speaks with Vaughn Palmer, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, about the early start to wildfire season in British Columbia.

Members with the U.S. Forest Service's Lassen Interagency Hotshot crew stationed at Susanville, Calif., observe an Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter approach a landing zone June 30, 2013, over Palmer, Alaska.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Department of Defense (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Alaska Public Radio reporter Alexandra Guttierez about the challenges of fighting fires in Alaska.

Burn Ban Marks Start Of Rough Fire Season

Jun 17, 2015

Marcie Sillman speaks with Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands for the state Department of Natural Resources, about a burn ban in effect in eastern Washington and the coming wildfire season.

Approximately 40 small wildland fires are burning across the Northwest -- and it’s only early June.

This summer is expected to be dry and hot, and that means increased wildfire risk. Communities near range or forest land are especially vulnerable.

In Oregon, it costs an average of $56,000 to protect a home from an encroaching wildfire. That's according to a study by the Headwaters Economics, a public policy think tank out of Bozeman, Montana.

A member of a fire crew. wildfire
Flickr Photo/BC Gov Photos (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman speaks with Vaughn Palmer, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, about an early start to the wildfire season in British Columbia.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency Friday.

The Interagency Fire Center released an outlook for the upcoming fire season on Friday. 2015 could be a big year for major wildfires in the Northwest.

One important predictor of fires is the moisture level of dead wood, called the "fuel moisture value." The value is measured at several sites across the state.

WINTHROP, Wash. -- Snow blankets the landscape in north central Washington. What you can’t see is the scorched earth left from last summer’s Carlton Complex fire.

Even through the snow, Susan Prichard, a fire ecologist for the University of Washington, can see the damage. She can also see signs of recovery in the bitterbrush and aspen trees.

Idaho lawmakers had a bit of sticker shock Friday over the state’s firefighting costs.

Another Threat To Spotted Owls: Fire

Dec 30, 2014

Northern spotted owls living in central Oregon are scrappier than their westside counterparts. They have to search harder for food, and habitat isn’t as plum as the lush forests on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.

Laurie Turner, a forest wildlife biologist for the Deschutes National Forest, said in this sort of fringe habitat, spotted owls need more space, especially breeding pairs.

The Washington state education department has released a report detailing the natural disaster risks for schools across the state.

Along with familiar risks like earthquakes and wildfires, the list of natural disasters that threaten Washington schools includes things you may not have known to worry about.

Like tsunami indundation in Seattle.

In Auburn and Puyallup, it’s lahars – mud flows from volcanic eruptions.

WINTHROP, Wash. -- This summer, the Carlton Complex wildfire swept through central Washington’s Methow Valley. The fire consumed more acres than any other fire in the state’s history. Now, ecologists are trying to make forests more sustainable to help prevent these large-scale fires.

Fire ecologist Susan Prichard was driving from Seattle to her home in Winthrop just as the Carlton Complex fire picked up.

The Carlton Complex fires burned more than 255,000 acres in Washington’s Methow Valley past summer. There are thousands of fire-scrubbed hillsides and slopes that threaten to become torrents of mud running down in nearly every direction.

The fires and immediate mudslides are over in the Methow Valley in north central Washington. Now a lot of tough work begins.

Wildfires scorched nearly 1.5 million acres in Oregon, Washington and Idaho this year. And with increased demand for timber from lumber mills, there is a growing market for scorched trees.

This summer’s Carlton Complex wildfire was the largest in Washington history. Scores of firefighters battled the inferno in north Central Washington.

Methow Valley families know they have a long, difficult winter ahead. And they’re trying to get ready.

Both Oregon and Washington’s state forestry departments had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.

People of the Methow Valley and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation were hoping for more money to rebuild hundreds of lost homes and livelihoods.

For years there's been a battle raging between Idaho ranchers and the federal government over whether ranchers should be able to fight wildfires.

Mine Pays For Environmental Projects As Part Of Fine

Sep 15, 2014

High tech weather sensors are now installed throughout the area scorched by the Carlton Complex wildfire. The hope is that they will warn residents of potential flash floods. The funding for the technology is coming from an unusual source.

In August, flash flooding swept through north central Washington. The area had earlier been burned by the Carlton Complex fire. The flooding took residents by surprise.

Now, new rain gauges that communicate via satellite will warn of future flash flooding in the area.

Scientists Say Large Wildfires Are Likely Here To Stay

Sep 11, 2014

SEATTLE – Megafires could be the new normal if climate models are on target.

John Abatzoglou, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Idaho, presented findings from a review of 20 different climate models at the Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference, held at the University of Washington this week.

The models looked at weekly temperature and wildfire data over time.

In north-central Washington people are trying to get back to normal. But that’s pretty hard with a major housing shortage after more than 350 homes were lost to wildfires.

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