As COVID-19 Upends Wildland Firefighting, Pacific Northwest Forests Poised for Conflagration

By LEVI PULKKINEN

With summer still weeks away, Washington’s fire season is shaping up as onerous — and in this pandemic year, especially dangerous.

Hotter than usual temperatures are forecast and more than half of the state is in or near drought. Summer fire forecasts for Washington and Oregon are the worst in the nation. And 2019 was a light fire year, leaving a particularly heavy buildup of underbrush that can fuel backcountry blazes this summer.

Already this year, Washington has seen nearly triple the usual number of wildfires, said Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who, as head of the Department of Natural Resources, leads the state’s wildfire response. While some of that uptick can be attributed to homebound residents’ enthusiasm for burning away brush in the countryside, the increase is worrisome.

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