Analysis: Western Washington wildfires differ from their east side counterparts | KNKX

Analysis: Western Washington wildfires differ from their east side counterparts

Jul 9, 2019

While the east side of the Cascades is no stranger to wildfires, communities in Western Washington are preparing for the possibility of bigger and more frequent fires.

In two interviews with KNKX Public Radio, officials with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service share their insights into the unique challenges of preventing and fighting wildfires in Western Washington.

U.S. FOREST SERVICE

Matt Castle works for the U.S. Forest Service in Wenatchee, as deputy fire staff officer of operations. He’s lived in Central and Eastern Washington his entire life.

Castle says the environment in Western Washington is different from the areas he’s from, which means firefighting there is different, too.

A buildup of fuels, such as dead brush and branches, aren’t just problems in our backyards. They cause problems in our forests, too, making mitigation more difficult when “fire comes to visit,” Castle said. Listen to the full audio below for more.

“It may be the public’s emergency, but it’s our job,” Castle said. “This is routine for us, and we don’t need to react like it’s an emergency. We need to be prepared and take it on as our job, and help our public through their emergency that they’re facing.”

DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

Washington State Forester George Geissler is the deputy supervisor for wildfire at the Department of Natural Resources.

In a conversation with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick, he says the Interstate 5 corridor and Olympic Peninsula are of particular concern for human-caused fires in Western Washington. Alongside I-5, there's a lot of grass and brush that lead to wooded areas. And on the peninsula, many vacation homes have owners who are part-time residents and may be difficult to reach when evacuations are ordered.

While the wildfire division of DNR received more funding from the state this year, the money didn't become available until July 1. So, Geissler said, it will have a greater impact next season.

Even so, challenges remain: a densely populated area of the state and increasingly dry conditions make for higher probability of human-caused wildfires.

"With humans comes the opportunity for fire starts,” Geissler said, “since humans cause the majority of fires."

Listen to the full audio below.

LIVE INTERVIEWS

KNKX Connects did a live broadcast from the Shelton Timberland Library. During the show, All Things Considered host Ed Ronco sat down for live interviews with Tim McKern, chief of Central Mason Fire and EMS, and Mason County Commissioner Kevin Shutty. Shutty reacted to insights from Ronco's interview with Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody. You can hear both conversations below.