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How will the continuous wet weather impact Spokane's 2022 wildfire season?

Following a record-breaking drought last year, firefighters say the continuous moisture could impact the upcoming wildfire season.

SPOKANE, Wash. — As Spokane temperatures begin to rise and summer approaches, firefighters are warning residents that it is only a matter of time before the landscape dries out and the wildfire danger sets in.   

The 2022 spring season has been much colder and wetter than is typical for the Spokane area, which will certainly help when it comes to the upcoming wildfire season.

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, firefighters want to remind residents that while most of the landscape is green right now, it will very quickly dry out and potentially burn. There also may be more on the ground left to burn than in years past.

"We have more dead trees this year than what we've seen in previous years," said Bob Schindelar with Spokane County Fire District 9 Wildfire Operations. "And part of that is a number of the trees died last year because of the drought conditions they faced."

According to Schindelar, the trees in the area are under a lot of stress from last year's fire season.

"This cool, wet moisture that we've had this spring is helping. However, they're trying to recover from a very severe drought that we encountered last year," he explained. "And it's going to take more time and lot more moisture before they're back to normal." 

Schindelar said the amount of grass in the area this year is more promising than the amount in the area last year when Spokane was in a severe drought and saw one of the driest years on record. However, the grass will eventually dry out, which Schindelar said will help with the spread of fire.

Another factor that may impact the spread of fire is interlocked tree limbs. Because of this, firefighters ask residents to prune the limbs so they are more fire-resistant.

"We have young trees that start to grow, but they're coming in really thick, and close together," Schindelar said. "If you look at the canopy, the crowns of the trees, the limbs are interlocked. Fire can easily spread from the grasses up into these lower limbs, and work their way in the crowns."

There is a large portion of the forest that is not being maintained, which Schindelar said is a great concern amid wildfire season. He added that firefighters need the public's help to reduce human-caused fires.

"The number one human cause of wildland fires is generally escaped campfires. That is a problem," Schindelar explained. "Debris burning is another issue where we have escaped debris burns, driving vehicles, especially this year with the tall grass. Most of the fires that we see that are caused by people are preventable."

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, Schindelar said the continuous wet weather makes right now a great time to be outdoors.

"Go out and enjoy your summer, plan it now. Don't wait until Labor Day weekend, when we're in the hottest, driest part of the summer when fire danger and fire potential are at their greatest," he said. "Take advantage of the time that you have right now."

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