SALEM — This season's wildfires have already surpassed the average number of acres burned over the last decade and the calendar hasn't even reached September, typically a busy month for wildland firefighters.
Thus far, 909,358 acres have burned in the Northwest. The 10-year average is 890,063 acres.
State and federal officials said this week the current fires are not likely to shrink anytime soon.
“In the absence of any sort of large-scale wetting rain event, we do expect the fires in the southern Cascades to persist on the landscape for some time,” said Ian Rickert, Fire Management Planning Specialist at the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There have been 2,923 wildfires in the Northwest this year, and about 20 of them are still requiring active containment efforts in Oregon.
Rickert added that east winds, like the event that intensified the fires of last Labor Day, will become more common in the fall.
In fact, he cautiously noted that a minor east wind event is expected in the southern Cascades this coming weekend although it's expected to be far weaker than last year’s notorious gusts.
While Washington's outlook has considerably improved with recent rains, large swaths of forest in Oregon's central and southern Cascades remain dry and flammable.
"There is potential in South and Central Oregon for new large fires in the month of September," Rickert said. “That area is still suffering from the conditions of drought."
Most of the state hasn’t received a rainfall of over 0.1 inches in at least 70 days, he said.
Due to extreme early-season fire behavior, firefighting resources in the West are spread thin, said Darron Williams, Fire Management Officer at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Williams added that Oregon fire authorities joined California in mid-July by declaring Preparedness Level 5, indicating that the National Interagency Fire Center foresees upcoming fire weather events “which have the potential to exhaust national wildland firefighting resources.”
As new fires arise, firefighters will continue to prioritize containing the ignitions nearest to communities and structures. “We will always prioritize and send those resources to the incidents that imminently threaten values at risk," said Alex Robertson, Director of Fire, Fuels and Aviation at the Forest Service.
The more remote fires will receive less attention at this point, he added, in order to keep new threats small and contained if possible.
Firefighter exhaustion also may play a part in how fires are attacked.
"Our folks are tired," Robertson said. "They've been going for a long time."
Robertson said agencies are doing everything they can to provide crews with rest and recuperation, but that if the fire season continues at its current trajectory, the already-familiar fatigue amongst crews will last well into early fall.