Vicki Markley remembers the scene vividly. The owner of Pinehurst Cabins & RV Park stood on her doorstep two weeks ago as the Rattlesnake Creek Fire approached from across U.S. Highway 95 south of Riggins, Idaho.
“It was burning right across the street,” she said. “Helicopters were dipping right out of the (Little Salmon) river here.”
Neither people nor property in the immediate area were hurt, she said, and the fire eventually reversed course and moved away from the resort property.
But as of Aug. 21 the Rattlesnake Creek Fire remained only 28 percent contained, and the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center pegged it at 8,135 acres. It’s one of thousands of fires burning in a busy Western wildfire season.
Through Aug. 21, 41,563 fires have burned more than 6 million acres across the West.
For the same period of 2017, there were 42,977 fires that burned nearly 6.48 million acres.
After choking on wildfire smoke much of last week, conditions dramatically improved throughout most Washington this week. Air along the Washington coast is expected to remain healthy for the foreseeable future, the National Weather Service in Portland said Tuesday.
Jennifer Jones, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman at NIFC, said that on a 1-to-5 scale the current preparedness level is 5.
This year, Australia and New Zealand senior firefighters and U.S. active-duty military soldiers arrived at the start of August rather than near the end of the month, as in the past, indicating staff and resources were stretched thinner, earlier, she said.
“It also feels different to have so much fire ‘on the board’ in such a widespread area,” she said. For example, Colorado and Wyoming still have active fires, whereas those states usually aren’t in play to a large extent this time of year.
“It’s rare for us to go into the end of July and first part of August and still be engaged with active fires from central Texas to Alaska and everywhere in between,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for Forest Service operations at NIFC.
Since resources are committed where they would not be under normal circumstances for the time of year, they’re less available for traditional deployment in the West as the season progresses and peaks, she said. And this year’s Western season started fairly early, thanks to heavy fuel loads.
— The Chinook Observer added to this story.