UW Combined Fund Drive

June 1, 2022

Fire season 2022: Prevention tips and resources

2022 could be another challenging year for wildfires across the West, but experts are optimistic that it will not have the catastrophic impact of the 2021 season. 

The 2014 Chiwaukum Creek wildfire in Washington / Michael Stanford

Drought conditions and dry and windy heat waves across the Western U.S. are major risk factors for significant fires this season. New Mexico is already seeing its worst fire year in recorded history with more than 600,000 acres already burned.

Most of the American West is in drought, even after moderate precipitation and a relatively wet spring in Washington, Oregon and Idaho that left the snow pack across much of the Cascade Mountain range only slightly below average for the time of year. As summer advances, parched vegetation resulting from drought provides tinder for fast-moving fires.

These risk factors, and the effects of climate change, are all indicators for another difficult, damaging, and potentially deadly fire season.

However, 2021 was an especially challenging year in the Pacific Northwest, with 4,075 fires reported and more than 1.5 million acres burned in Washington and Oregon alone. Record-setting heat domes like that of June 2021 that killed dozens across the region are not expected to be the new normal – yet.

In fact, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is feeling ‘hopeful and optimistic’ about the 2022 fire season. The wetter spring, fewer fires so far this year (meaning less exhausted firefighters) and considerably larger pool of financial resources point to an easier year. Of course, there are unknowns, such as weather and people’s behavior, that could lessen or worsen this year’s season.

Read more: UW experts on wildfires, smoke impacts

Natural fires, often caused by lightning, are a normal part of ecological balance, although they happen unexpectedly and can quickly grow out of control. Accidental fires – those caused by humans – are often sparked by people’s poor choices or careless behavior, such as discarded lit cigarettes, campfires that are not sufficiently dampened, vehicle sparks, and fireworks.

Fire season lasts from roughly May through November, starting earlier in the Southwest and moving North as the season wears on. And research shows that fire season is growing longer, exacerbated by factors related to climate change as the planet heats up.

Safety Tips for Fire Season

Nearly nine out of ten wildfires nationwide are human-caused and can be prevented. 

There are many ways to protect yourself and your family from fire and the health risks associated with wildfire smoke:

  • Be in the know: be aware of the fire danger forecast with tools provided by the National Weather Service and S. Geological Survey.
  • Clean up: make sure your home is clear of debris, flammable materials like firewood, and dead vegetation.
  • Ventilate: beyond the imminent danger of fire is the lingering effect of smoke. Keep your windows closed, use air filtration systems, and minimize your time outside. Consult the Washington State Department of Health Smoke from Fires website for additional information.
  • Emergency planning: consider making a plan in case you need to evacuate due to fires. Make sure to include any important documents, learn about local shelters and services, and have necessary supplies. Though unlikely in Western Washington, knowing how to respond to fire can save lives.
  • Recreate responsibly: whether you’re out camping or enjoying a bonfire in the backyard, make sure you understand the potential for explosions or fire with your equipment and toys. Check that fires and heat sources are extinguished.

Additional resources

Support

Fire season highlights the incredible work of firefighters and environmental protection organizations. Consider setting up monthly payroll deduction or making a one-time gift to any of the following UWCFD member organizations working to mitigate the effect of wildfires in our region: 

University of Washington Forest Resources Scholarship Fund (charity code 1480131): To provide support for students enrolled in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Washington State Fire Fighter’s Association (charity code 0518389): The Washington State Fire Fighters’ Association provides information education benefits and representation to the volunteer fire service of the State of Washington in order to enhance their capabilities and professionalism.

Washington State Council of Firefighters Burn Foundation (charity code 0457346): Provide funding for burn research and public burn education fire prevention programs and summer camp for children with burn injuries through a system of grants.

The Soup Ladies (charity code 1481469): Our mission is to provide fresh cooked meals expeditiously to support first responders such as police and fire departments, search and rescue teams and military personnel in times of emergencies and disasters.

EarthShare Washington (charity code 0316709): Funds more than 60 leading organizations that provide for livable communities and a healthy planet. Together, we are ensuring a cleaner, greener future. Includes the National Forest Foundation.

American Forest Foundation (charity code 1478546): The American Forest Foundation AFF works on-the-ground with families, teachers and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (charity code 1482288) – Sponsors Memorial Weekend honoring America’s fallen firefighters Assists their families with scholarships and emotional support programs Provides training for fire service Building National Memorial Park.