Western wildfire season keeps firefighters busy

An army of firefighters and an air force of planes and helicopters are working around-the-clock to battle more than 1,700 blazes across the West as the wildfire season hits full stride.

As of mid-week, 23,409 firefighters, 143 helicopters and 1,527 fire engines were battling fires scorching 4.6 million acres of the West, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. The center didn’t have numbers for the number of airplanes included in the fight.

The 10 Western states account for the vast majority of wildfires in the nation and 23,000 of the 25,409 firefighters dispatched across the U.S.

Most of the fires are in the Northwest, Great Basin and northern California, according to the center. The Great Basin has 573,645 acres burning, and northern California has 256,115 acres burning. The Northwest has 180,637 acres on fire.

“Year to date in the Northwest region there have been 1,726 fires,” Carrie Bilbao, public affairs specialist for the National Interagency Fire Center, said. The Northwest includes Oregon and Washington.

High temperatures hurt efforts to contain the fires, said Lori Wisehart, an information officer for the Klondike fire, approximately 17,987 acres, and the Natchez fire, approximately 6,174 acres, burning in southern Oregon and northern California.

The crews fighting those fires were forced to redirect their efforts from containment to managing incidents such as spot fires, Wieshart said.

“We have been working both day and night shifts” on the fires, Wieshart said.

Though this year’s fire season is busy, it’s not a record-setter. This year fewer fires have broken out than last year at this time, Bilbao said. There were 38,617 fires across the U.S. for a total of 5.4 million acres last year, she said. As of July 31, there have been 37,315 fires and 800,000 fewer acres on fire this year.

While the numbers are slightly down from last year, Bilbao said the high volume of fires in some states, such as Oregon, is an issue. She also said the numbers change constantly as the fires continue to grow and new fires break out.

On a national level, 98 large fires were burning across the U.S., Bilbao said. Oregon has 14 large fires, California accounted for 8, Idaho has 9 and Washington state has 4. A large fire is defined as anything over 100 acres of forest land or over 300 acres of grassland, Bilbao said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed a state of emergency for all of Washington on Tuesday with “dangerous fire fuel and weather conditions across the state.”

The proclamation ensures that resources are available, when the need arises, to fight the fires and allows the National Guard to assist firefighting efforts.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, similarly declared a statewide wildfire emergency on July 18 and made National Guard resources available to the state Department of forestry.

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