Just enough rain tamped down fire risk

Posted 10/9/19

With the unofficial end of wildfire season just days away, area firefighters are breathing a sigh of relief knowing there were no serious conflagrations this fire season in Jefferson County.

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Just enough rain tamped down fire risk

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With the unofficial end of wildfire season just days away, area firefighters are breathing a sigh of relief knowing there were no serious conflagrations this fire season in Jefferson County.

Predictive Services had forecast above-normal fire activity on the west side of Washington for July, August and September.

“It definitely didn’t go the way meteorologists were predicting,” said Janet Pearce, Washington Department of Natural Resources communications manager. “We are definitely thankful for that. They were predicting the west side to have a lot more wildfires this season. Luckily, the fluke of the rain came. That is why we are loving it right now.”

The unofficial end of fire season is Oct. 15, Pearce said. On that day, industrial rules change for loggers and other workers in heavily wooded areas.

“In April through October, they have to keep out a fire watch and keep an eye out on their area when the work is completed,” Pearce said.

While the wetter-than-expected summer months have diminished the risk of wildfires on the North Olympic Peninsula at present, they nourished additional vegetation which could become fuel down the road, fire officials say. Fire crews call that summer flush “grassoline” when it dries out.

“Rain always does that,” Pearce said. “It adds to our fuel, makes it taller and bigger. It is really hard to predict what it will look like next year, but it will depend on the snow pack we have received this winter and how quickly it melts in the spring. If we can get it where it melts off slowly, we can at least keep the fires down.”

Emily Stewart, administrative assistant for East Jefferson Fire Rescue, said while firefighters were primed for action had a wildfire been sparked, the department is pleased no such emergency happened.

“I would say we are happy there weren’t any brush fires or anything of significance this year in Jefferson County. In the summertime, we more often get deployed to different areas because it is more likely there are wildfires in eastern Washington. We did deploy out two different units through DNR or the State Patrol.”

One crew was sent to Goldendale in eastern Washington for about two weeks during the height of fire week, Stewart said.

“It was called prepositioning so basically they were over there staging. They were out for two weeks and did work on a couple of fires.”

A paramedic was also deployed to Naches, Washington to work on the fire line, providing aid to fellow firefighters should they be injured or incapacitated.

“There is an inherent danger with the profession,” Stewart said.

Not all were lucky, with one wildfire fatality this year, Assistant Chief Christian Johnson, an Okanogan Fire District 3 firefighter.

“Everyone at DNR is holding the family of Assistant Chief Christian Johnson in our hearts,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “Christian, an Army veteran and a member of Okanogan County Fire District 3, is a hero. He sustained severe burns last month while fighting the Spring Coulee Fire south of Okanogan and was placed in a medically induced coma.”

Franz said she cannot imagine how difficult and heart wrenching this time has been for Christian’s family.

“Even though Christian was not a DNR firefighter, we consider him one of our own, and his family, friends and colleagues are in our prayers.”

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