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Fire Likely East Of The Cascades Over Fourth Of July Weekend

Brush, grass and sage served as fuel for the Douglas County Complex fire in 2015.

Fireworks aren’t the only thing firefighters have to worry about this Fourth of July weekend. They have a big battle on their hands and have been bringing in extra crews and equipment to posts east of the Cascades.

Heavy winter and spring rains fueled major desert growth. The bunchgrass and cheatgrass is tall. And now all that fuel is cured-out like dry hay. That dry kindling on the land, plus high temperatures and possible winds could equal big problems.

“The grasses are probably a good foot to two feet taller this year. And a lot more of it,” firefighter John Janak said. “When you have that type of fuel type under the sagebrush, it just makes for explosive fire behavior.”

Janak said firefighters have already put out several fires on the lands he manages near the Hanford nuclear site.

Northwest firefighters will be especially concerned with something called “flame length” this summer. That refers to how tall wildfires will likely get. The taller flames climb, the harder and more unpredictable they become to fight.

Many areas in the Columbia Basin haven’t burned in a while. So the buildup of dead grass and fuel on the ground could make really tall fire. Where we often might only see fires reaching heights of only one or two feet, some top experts say this year fires could be 15 to 20 feet tall. When flames get that big, they rip fast across the landscape in unpredictable ways. They are also more likely to jump firebreaks and roadways.

Many fires start near highways due to the increased number of travelers over holiday weekends. Some of the top causes are: lightning, cigarettes thrown out windows, blown out tires and people pulling over to the side of the road with overheated cars in tall grass.

One fire manager also mentioned the surprising number of boat trailers on the road this time of year that often drag sparking chains with them.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.