As record-breaking fires scorch large swaths of the West Coast, fire officials in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater said their jurisdictions have thus far avoided major incidents despite alarming conditions.
Those fire officials said that while the number of calls they respond to seem to be up from the same time last year, the increase is slight and the fires have been contained before becoming severe.
Tumwater Fire Chief Brian Hurley told The JOLT News that for a stretch of time last week, the department increased the manpower working each shift because conditions were just right for a serious fire. Those conditions included an eastern wind, high temperatures and low humidity. The increased staffing was a proactive move rather than a reactive one, he said, meaning his staff hadn’t been overwhelmed by calls but easily could have been.
During that time, one unit from Tumwater was sent to help a extinguish a fire that burned 290 acres in the southwestern part of the county on Sept. 8 through Sept. 9.
“There were a lot of resources from the county down there, so if we had any kind of major incident in the city of Tumwater — a structure fire or a wildland fire — we would have been hard-pressed to get resources from our neighboring jurisdictions because they were all tied up,” Hurley said of that day. (A structure fire is a fire in a building.)
The most serious incident in Tumwater during the intense stretch was on Sept. 7, where a fallen power line caused smoldering that had potential to grow into a serious fire. Local firefighters had to wait to do anything about it until the power lines could be shut off. In the meantime, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) helicopter dropped water from the sky to keep the fire from growing.
Hurley said that wind speeds have died down, and that helps lower the fire threat. High winds cause fires to spread quickly, especially in dry conditions.
Assistant Chief Mike Buchanan with the Olympia Fire Department said that the number of calls they’ve seen in the past couple of weeks has increased, but not enough to exceed their resources. The incidents they’ve responded to have been relatively minor. The most serious fire burned about one acre in a wooded area on Friday.
That fire was just north of the 1300 block of Cooper Point Road Southwest. Buchanan said it spread quickly in the dry brush and several units responded to keep it contained. A DNR helicopter dropped water from above. Additional units responded from the Black Lake and Lacey fire departments. Perhaps most alarming about the fire was its proximity to a mobile home park. The park was just to the north of the fire and it could have been consumed by the blaze if the fire had not been contained quickly.
Battalion Chief Tim Hule with the Lacey Fire Department said that while conditions have been primed for a serious fire season this year, the number of fire calls have been pretty average.
“It could have just as easily happened here as it did in Graham,” Hule said, referring to the Pierce County town where multiple homes were destroyed by brushfires last week.