SEATTLE (AP) — Unlike the nation’s interior West, wildfire season in Washington state is forecast to get a late start and be relatively mild.

But officials say that doesn’t mean the state is not in danger of destructive blazes and this week’s hot weather has already ushered in a wildfire near Chelan that forced one home to be evacuated.

“Currently we are below normal, below average for the state of Washington. We had a wet June. That moisture is going to hold,” said Carol Connoly, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. “Around August, we’ll return to normal regular type conditions.”

This year is shaping up to look like 2011, which saw wet conditions hold into spring and early summer, but also a spike in fires by late August, when the state had dried up, a NICC report said.

The report expects fires to star earlier in Eastern Washington.

In 2011, 919 fires burnt in Washington. Of those, 821 were caused by people while 98 were caused by lighting. Nearly 20,000 acres were affected, which had been one of the lowest total numbers of acres burnt in a decade, the report said.

In all, both the number of fires and acres burnt were at 10-year lows in 2011.

But while the fire season was short, it was still destructive. A 3,000-plus acre fire near Goldendale burnt 24 homes and 80 out buildings last September. The biggest blaze, which grew to about 11,000 acres, mostly affected grassy areas.

Fire season is likely to begin within a couple of weeks, said Joe Shramek of the state Department of Natural Resources, “Normally we get active around first of July. We have a two, three week delay. It’ll be quicker on east side of the mountains. After that we’ll be in a typical fire season.”

The late start has afforded northwest agencies to send firefighters to help out exhausted crews fighting blazes in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. More than 1,700 personnel from Washington and Oregon have been sent out to help.

Forecasts for wildfires in those states had called for increased activity. Those states have been experience drought-like conditions, Shramek said.

Two people have been killed in Colorado and nearly 350 homes have been destroyed. The glow of burning homes could be seen for miles. In South Dakota, an Air Force C-130 tanker crashed during fire operations, killing four crewmembers.

The northwest firefighters are expected to be called back in August as fires start here.

Shramek said so far the state has seen twice as many fires — 150 so far — ignited so far this year, but none have grown to significant sizes. He added that his agency has been mindful of an unusually large number of trees dying because of disease, which can create long-lasting fuel for fires.

— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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