Washington's wildfire season on pace to be among worst in recent history

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Our wildfire season is heating up to be among the most expensive and longest on record. State fire officials say we haven’t seen a fire season like this since 2015, which was the costliest in state history.

Our dry, hot weather isn’t helping crews who are trying to contain the flames already spreading across the state.

Officials say 939 small but mighty wildfires have covered our state so far this year.

In Olympia, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a dispatch center that talks to the units on the ground and in the air. Just next door, a command center houses an administrative staff, fire operations specialists, and an intel team that can pinpoint the number of acres burning in any given fire.

“We everyday play chess, balance moving resources around. We need more resources; we need a lot more resources,” said DNR Operations Chief Aaron Schmidt.

It takes millions of dollars to move these resources around to real fires burning across Washington. The cost of 2015’s wildfire season was a whopping $364 million.  Just one average helicopter out on a fire costs about $3,000 per hour to run.

“If it catches a fire from being a multimillion-dollar fire, a few thousand dollars an hour is really money well spent,” said Schmidt.

The costs of this fire season are adding up quickly, but there’s no running tally of charges just yet.

“There’s a logistical component of housing people 40 miles from civilization. Folks don’t get to go home at night, folks are working long hours, we’re having to expend food and there’s costs associated with that,” said Schmidt.

The approach now is to attack with fury as soon as possible and add up the costs later.

“We look at life safety as number one, property, and resources,” said Schmidt.

Whether fighting flames here in Washington or in California, that’s the order of priority. Schmidt says before the state offers any resources to California or elsewhere, he says they make sure assisting our neighbors doesn’t come at a cost of Washington lives, homes or resources.