Washington's early drought sparks wildfire fears

The Department of Ecology has issued a statewide drought emergency for Washington, marking a concerning start to what experts predict could be a long, hot summer.

Last year, drought conditions didn't hit until July, but this year, the declaration came months earlier, prompting officials to take action. On the heels of this alarming announcement, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz delivered her own warning. 

"We're going to see more increasing wildfires, and more wildfires on the west side of the state," she predicted. 

Forecasters with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources say the combination of low snowpack and below-average precipitation is problematic.

"Less moisture in the landscape means when it's hot and dry for a long enough period and a fire starts, it becomes a tinderbox," Franz explained. "We will be bringing in even more resources than we did last year because we know that we were going to have an El Nino year. We knew we were going to see these drought-like conditions."

Caroline Mellor, Drought Lead with the Department of Ecology says currently the snowpack stands at 63%. It's a discouraging measure, but it's not as dire as levels in years past. 

"I will say, in terms of magnitude, while these drought conditions are statewide, this is not yet as bad as the historically warm and dry drought we saw in 2015," remarked Mellor. "For this date back in 2015, we were as low as 24%."


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