Climate

In Washington State, The 2014 Wildfire Season Has Been 6 Times Worse Than Normal

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Clouds of smoke billow from a wildfire Friday, July 18, 2014, near Twisp, Wash.

The 2014 wildfire season in Washington State is not over, but it has already been one of the most destructive and costly on record, state officials from the Department of Natural Resources said Thursday.

Since the beginning of the season up until the end of August, the DNR said wildfires in Washington had burned 363,000 acres, or 550 square miles of land, destroying homes along the way. That’s about 6 times worse than the average amount of acres burned per year in Washington, state forest officials said. Fighting the fires has been costly, too — the state says it spent $81 million this year, even though its annual budget is only $25 million.

“It’s been a staggering year, and a great challenge,” state forester Aaron Everett said, according to the News Tribune.

In light of the damage, Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday sent a letter to President Obama asking for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist families who lost their homes. More than 350 homes were impacted by the fires this season, Inslee wrote, a large majority of which were classified as “destroyed.” In contrast, only 55 percent of those homes were insured, and Inslee said state and local governments are not able to adequately help due to “extraordinary budget and revenue shortfalls.”

“The needs of these families will have to be addressed as well as those of the completely uninsured,” the letter reads. “This will stretch the already limited capacity of the state … delaying recovery for all families. Federal funding will greatly assist in our ability to serve the whole community.”

Though there are no large-scale fires happening in Washington now, Reuters notes that more are expected. “September forecasts indicat[e] low humidity, lightning storms and extremely warm weather,” Reuters’ report reads.

The scientific community is largely in agreement that wildfires can be intensified by human-caused climate change. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cites medium-to-high confidence that climate change is causing longer and more intense heatwaves, and says it is “more likely than not” that it is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions. Drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfires, the IPCC says.

The U.S Global Change Research Program — headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and backed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institute among others — also says there will be “more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity” due to climate change.