The onset of cooler, wetter fall weather drops the curtain on the 2009 summer wildfire season.
While not everyone is thrilled by the change in the weather, it comes as a welcome relief to firefighters, forestland owners and rural homeowners who live in fire-prone areas.
Preliminary figures show that the 2009 fire season, which is set by the state Legislature as running from April 15 through Oct. 15, saw an uptick in the number of fires this year, but a decrease in the number of acres burned.
The increase in wildfires — 992 this year compared with 813 in 2008 should come as no surprise. The state experienced hot, dry conditions on both sides of the Cascade mountains from mid-May through the summer and early fall, leaving the table set for catastrophic fires.
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Even with more than 100 additional fires this year, the total acres burned was down slightly this year — 18,924 acres compared with 19,613 acres last year.
Some of the reduction in acres burned can be attributed to timing and location of fires, and some of it can be traced back to lady luck.
But considering that 90 percent of the blazes were limited to less than 10 acres, some of the credit must go to rapid responses by state Department of Natural Resources fire crews and people who were careful with outdoor fires.
The largest fire on the 12.7 million acres of private, state, tribal and open lands that DNR protects was the Oden Road Fire west of Okanogan. The 9.607-acre fire was started on Aug. 21 and wasn’t tamed until it had destroyed two residences and 12 other structures.
But anyone driving through the charred forests and pastures after the fire was extinguished could see case after case where firefighters were successful in turning back the flames before they consumed even more homes and outbuildings.
Fall and winter are good times for homeowners to make their homes more fire resistant in advance of the 2010 fire season. Home safety tips include:
• Inspect the home’s exterior for fire hazards.
• Remove moss and needles from the roof and rain gutters.
• Clear flammable materials from around propane tanks.
• Stack firewood at least 30 feet from the house.
• Decorative bark and railroad ties are great places for sparks to smolder, so it’s best to keep them a safe distance from the home foundation.
• Trim branches of tall trees to 10 feet off the ground and adjust accordingly for smaller trees. Remove branches that overhang the roof and gutters.
One other reminder: There still are areas in rural Thurston County where outdoor burning is allowed between Oct. 15 and July 15. But burn permits must be obtained from the local fire district and rules to control the burning must be followed.