It’s mid-August and, to this point, we can breath. Smoke from wildfires has not ensconced our Valley.
We have been fortunate compared to the past few years. The invading smoke has been horrific. But the fire season is far from over.
The spring fire season was active in Washington state, before a stretch of cooler summer weather slowed the burns. As of Monday, 88,246 acres have burned in the state, tracking below last year, when — by October — wildfires had burned through more than 438,830 acres, according to The Seattle Times.
Summer weather is going to be summer weather — as in hot — so let’s hope the efforts by the state Department of Natural Resources to curb wildfires are starting to work.
The state has been working to increase thinning of forests, doing more controlled burns and clearing brush to reduce future fires.
The Legislature approved about $50 million in new funding for wildfire response and forest-health work in the 2019-2021 budget.
That extra funding was imperative as efforts at preventing forest fires have been woefully inadequate.
“We have in Washington state a forest-health crisis,” said Washington state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who oversees the DNR. “We have in Central and Eastern Washington alone, 2.7 million acres of forests that are dying.”
Since 2015, according to reporting by The Seattle Times, the Legislature had allocated only $18 million for fire-reduction effort.
It’s far too early to say whether the infusion of cash will significantly reduce wildfires. It’s only six weeks into the 2019-2020 budget. Next fire season will likely be a better barometer. Still, having that funding will make it easier to take fire-prevention steps now and keep small fires from growing.
Of course, wildfires do not follow state boundaries. The fires from Canada and Montana that spewed smoke that engulfed our Valley in recent years will not be specifically addressed by Washington’s efforts.
But for now, we can at least be thankful that the heavy smoke that rolled in the past few years has not appeared.