Wet year-to-date may delay onset of fire season

About 2,500 fires happen in an average season in Oregon

A 20-person handcrew from Sheridan, Ore.'s JC Orozco Reforestation conducts a burn out operation on the western flank of the Oregon Gulch Fire. (AP Photo/Medford Mail Tribune, Jamie Lusch)
A 20-person handcrew from Sheridan, Ore.'s JC Orozco Reforestation conducts a burn out operation on the western flank of the Oregon Gulch Fire. (AP Photo/Medford Mail Tribune, Jamie Lusch)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Pacific Northwest has seen a lot of rain and snow this winter and spring, but will it help reduce the risk of wildfires later this year?

A room full of firefighting experts listened closely Thursday as fire weather program manager John Saltenberger shared his prediction for the fire season based on the weather.

Approximately 300 acres were burning near Sunriver, Oregon in August 2016. (Central Oregon Fire)
Approximately 300 acres were burning near Sunriver, Oregon in August 2016. (Central Oregon Fire)

“We’re actually looking at a sustained warming, drying spell coming for the Northwest,” Saltenberger said.

Despite the warmer, drier conditions, he doesn’t believe things will be much different than any other fire season.

“I’m not anticipating any unusual, large fire threat for the PNW as we go through July and August,” he said. “The threat is average or lower as we go through May and June.”

Still, Doug Grafe with the Oregon Department of Forestry told KOIN 6 News about 2,500 fires happen in an average season in Oregon.

Grafe said the department expects budget cuts to result in a 5% reduction of its seasonal firefighting workforce, but resources can be added through contracting.

The fact that people start half of all wildfires has all local agencies gearing up for the massive influx of tourists coming to see the solar eclipse on August 21.

“[It’s] going to add some complexity to our summer because it’s coming right in the middle of fire season,” Kevin Martin with USFS-BLM said.

While the wet year-to-date doesn’t really factor into the fire season, it can help delay its onset. The hope is for the normal fire season to start later rather than sooner.