The Hot Shot fire outside Oso is 100 percent contained.

The Hot Shot fire outside Oso is 100 percent contained.

Weather is behind what’s expected to be a nasty wildfire season

GOLD BAR — It’s shaping up to be a nasty wildfire season.

Two fires that began last week in Oso and Gold Bar were larger than normal for this early in the spring.

“Years ago, (fire season) used to start after July 4,” said Janet Pearce, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources. “But anymore, the fires tend to start earlier.”

Pearce was surprised by the size of the burns in Oso and Gold Bar.

“To have one that’s 300 acres is alarming, especially because it’s on the west side,” she said.

As of Monday, the state Department of Natural Resources had been called out to 88 fires this year. Those fires have burned a total of 476 acres statewide. At the same point last year, the department had responded to 119 fires that burned 322 acres.

The January-to-May window this year and last year saw significantly more wildfires than Washington normally endures. On average over the previous 10 years, the department handled 67 fires between Jan. 1 and May 16. An average of 298 acres burned during those months.

To have large fires so soon doesn’t bode well for the months ahead.

“We are predicting a bad fire season, a really bad one,” Pearce said. “I would love it if we were wrong.”

This winter was wet, with mountain snowfall near normal levels and plenty of rain in the lowlands. The wet winter followed by unseasonably warm weather in recent weeks spurred rapid growth of grass, trees and brush.

“In July, when it’s real crispy, there’s more to fuel those wildfires,” Pearce said.

Predicting the fire season isn’t an exact science. It’s based on regional weather and moisture, said Jason Biermann, emergency management director for Snohomish County.

Any area near wilderness or timber is at risk, he said. People should be aware that their actions — campfires that aren’t doused, burning debris in their back yard, throwing a cigarette butt out a car window — can cause a fire even in areas that don’t look dry.

“We’re near the start of the typical fire season anyway, but I think because we had two fires so close together before Memorial Day, it seems like an early season,” Biermann said. “We had evacuations this early in the season. I think if these fires had been out in the wilderness farther, they might not have drawn as much attention, but those evacuation notices made it more pressing.”

It took hundreds of firefighters to beat back the first Snohomish County wildfires of the year this week.

The Proctor Creek fire between Gold Bar and Index was reported May 13 on private logging land and consumed nearly 300 acres before crews stopped it from spreading. Evacuation notices were issued and a shelter was set up at Sultan Middle School over the weekend. The evacuations later were called off and no homes were damaged.

West of Oso, the Hot Shot fire was spotted May 12 on steep, hazardous timber land. It reached an estimated 130 acres and took longer to contain because of tricky terrain and dangerous snags.

By Wednesday morning, both fires were contained and the number of firefighters working them had dropped from 300 to 198. Rainy weather, which aided firefighters over the weekend, was expected to return for the second half of the week.

Wildfire season tends to stretch fire departments thin. Emergency responders need to keep up with day-to-day calls such as house fires and medical emergencies. Large wildfires usually are handed over to a regional incident management team. That was the case for the Hot Shot and Proctor Creek fires, said Randy Shepard, a spokesman for the firefighting efforts.

“What was happening is there was really too much for the number of people and the resources they had,” Shepard said. “There was a lot of fuel.”

The causes of those fires are under investigation.

Eight of every 10 wildfires in Washington are human-caused, according to the DNR.

“Lightning strikes we can’t predict, but the human causes can be prevented,” Pearce said.

Two of the most common culprits are burning yard waste and failing to put out campfires. People should never assume a fire will go out on its own if left unattended, Pearce said. The wind can pick up an ember and carry it for miles until it lands on something flammable.

Officials recommend that homeowners clear brush, leaves and branches from around buildings, prune trees so branches are not near the ground or hanging over rooftops and store firewood at least 100 feet from the house and flammable materials in safe containers.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Learn more

For more tips on getting ready for fire season, go to or contact your local fire department.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

To the amazement of onlookers, flames shoot out the exhaust pipes on Les Sanders’ black 1950 Mercury Coupe as he drives up and down Colby Avenue with many others in classic and custom automobiles during one of the many popular Cruzin’ to Colby events held each summer in Everett. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cruzin’ to Colby has ‘100 years of cars’ showing off in downtown Everett

Last year, over 40,000 people came to the free event, a Memorial Day weekend tradition for nearly 25 years.

N3054V accident site. (Alaska State Trooper Photo)
Lake Stevens pilot, who lived ‘Alaska dream,’ died in Fairbanks crash

Former Snohomish County lawyer Harry “Ray” Secoy III, 63, worked as a DC-4 pilot in Alaska in the last years of his life.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.