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Environment and Planning

Ample Rain, Snow Make Loads Of Summer Grass And Brush

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Washington Department of Natural Resources
File photo of a firefighter working near Wenatchee, Washington, during the 2016 fire season.

The Northwest has had above-average snowpack and rain in many areas this winter. That’s good -- it’s wiped out drought. But all that water has wildland fire managers concerned about the terrain’s greening cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass is an invasive, fast-burning plant that carpets the West and grows readily with ample water.

“As always with increased rainfall amounts we’re gonna see increased vegetation on the landscape,” said Josh Clark, a meteorologist with Washington’s Department of Natural Resources in Olympia. “We’re forecasting El Niño type conditions for early summer -- so that means typically hotter and dryer.”

Clark said he’s also watching forest brush and the snowpack. If this year’s El Niño melts out the snow quickly, it could also further increase the chance for those heavy-fuel-fed wildfires.

The fire on the Hanford Reach last August was largely caused by a big load of fine fuels like cheatgrass.