The fires that have burned more than 600,000 acres in Washington since Labor Day are fueled by climate change, Gov. Jay Inslee said.
The fires aren’t natural and thinning forests, though helpful, won’t attack the underlying problem, he said.
“This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways,” Inslee said.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported Friday that 16 large fires were burning in Washington, covering 625,503 acres. In Oregon, 15 major fires were burning 807,490 acres, according to the center. Fires have burned more than 2 million acres of California.
The number of acres that burned over five days equals the second-worst wildfire season in Washington’s history, surpassed only by 2015, Inslee said. “This has been a cataclysmic event in the state of Washington,” he said.
Inslee said he supported thinning forests to reduce the threat of fires, but that only a small percentage of land can be thinned each year, and thinning forests won’t prevent dried out grasslands from catching fire.
He called climate change the “gasoline” that’s fueling most of the fires. “These are not just wildfires. These are climate fires,” he said.
Washington’s two largest wildfires are in Okanogan County in north-central Washington. The Cold Springs Fire covered 187,689 acres and the Pearl Hill Fire spread over 178,000 acres, according to the fire center. The Whitney Fire 6 miles northwest of Davenport in Lincoln County was at 128,706 acres.
Washington Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson said smoke from Oregon and California has drifted north.
Two people have been arrested on suspicion of starting fires in Pierce County. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said law enforcement has not found a conspiracy to light fires.
“We are unaware of coordinated efforts to start fires,” he said. “We know there are a lot of rumors spreading on social media.”