Wildfire Connects | KNKX

Wildfire Connects

Two girls play in warm and sunny weather at the International Fountain in Seattle on Friday, July 13, 2018.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

With all the bright sun, blue skies and warm temperatures that have dominated Puget Sound weather recently, it’s a little ironic to see showers in the forecast for Saturday. This weekend is the one anyone planning a major outdoor event in the Northwest typically aims for, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass.

Mount Rainier is surrounded in a haze of wildfire smoke.
Rachel La Corte / The Associated Press

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.

Firefighters dig a fire line June 24 in Rainier, Washington, during one of the state's wildland fire training academies.
Simone Alicea / KNKX

Naaman Midyette has fought many fires in the past two decades. But fighting those fast-moving blazes that engulf wildlands is different.

“It’s scary just knowing the power a free-burning wildfire can have,” he said.

Soo Ing-Moody, who became mayor of Twisp in 2010, stands in front of blackened trees in Methow Valley.
Ed Ronco / KNKX

Soo Ing-Moody became mayor of Twisp in 2010, before wildfires were the new normal. 

But she wasn’t new to the impacts they have on communities. 

Daniel Lyon and his girlfriend, Megan Lanfear, on a recent road trip.
Courtesy of Daniel Lyon

As soon as Daniel Lyon jumped out of the wrecked fire engine in Twisp, he was burning alive.

“It was the loudest, brightest thing you’d ever seen,” he said of the wall of flames. “It sounded like a freight train all around you.”

Lyon crawled up the ravine to the dirt road and took off running, toward the wildfire safety zone. That, he says, was the easy part.

Visitors explore and rest at “Distress Signal,” one of three art installations at Seattle Center. The pieces are part of “The Smoke Season,” an outdoor exhibit studying wildfires and their impact on human health and the environment.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

In 2017, smoke from the Jolly Mountain Fire in Eastern Washington engulfed the Puget Sound region. Now, the wildfire’s remains comprise striking art installations at Seattle Center. “The Smoke Season,” the outdoor exhibit by artist Ted Youngs, runs through Sept. 15.

Ready for his first jump during the 1939 experiment is pioneer smokejumper Francis Lufkin. Lufkin, a local fire guard as they were called at the time, headed up the North Cascades Base from 1940 until his retirement in 1972.
Courtesy of USDA Forest Service

The men and women who fight wildland fires have to be prepared for everything. Many of the people who sign up as recruits have never been in a wildfire in their lives. Others have experience as hot shots or smokejumpers. And that got us thinking: where did the idea come from to jump out of a plane and into a fire? The answer: Central Washington.