On top of all the everything going on right now, this is shaping up to be a particularly bad year for wildfires in Washington. Of course it is. Of course. Why wouldn't it be?
There are a couple of factors contributing to heightened fire danger in 2020: for one thing, coronavirus has limited training opportunities for firefighters. For another, at-home quarantine seems to have given people more time to do yardwork, leading to debris fires that get out of hand. And it's looking like it’ll be a warmer and drier season than usual, which means less snowpack to keep things damp.
So is there anything you can do to prepare? Why yes, there is.
First, don’t panic. City dwellers aren’t at the same risk of encountering a wildfire as folks in more rural areas; the Washington Department of Natural Resources says that the areas at greatest risk right now are North Bend, Black Diamond/Green River Gorge, Cumberland, Kanaskat/Selleck, Lake Retreat/Rock Creek, and Snoqualmie Pass.
But if you live close to natural space, or just have a lot of trees nearby, now’s the time to clear away any dead and dry vegetation around your home (and don’t neglect material under decks and porches). Check your roofs and gutters, too, and prune any branches that touch your building. If you have exterior vents, cover them with mesh to block embers, and make sure your patio furniture is fire-resistant or stored indoors.
If you’re still feeling antsy, the King County Forestry Program will come out and check your property for free and offer advice for reducing wildfire risk.
You might also want to do some landscaping with fire-resistant plants. The King County Forestry Program has an extensive list of safer vegetation to plant, like willow trees and elderberry. Wild strawberry is a particularly popular ground cover here — if you go for a stroll around local parks and community gardens, you’re likely to see it used. (There's a cute little patch of it over on the western side of Cal Anderson, near the stairs.)
If wildfires do generate a lot of smoke over the city, you can take steps to protect yourself. Check the air quality index before you go out, and avoid physical exertion on particularly smoky or smoggy days. Run an air filter indoors. And for God’s sake, smokers, quit already, you smell terrible.
So far, the rate of wildfires this year has been two to three times the average, and we’re not even into the driest summer months. You do have an N95 mask at this point, right? After 2018’s terrible fire season, with ash turning the sun red over Seattle, plus the coronavirus crisis and tear gas from the police, masking up is just how we live now.