The chart above displays acres burned by fires in central and eastern Washington's dry forest ecosystems, based on fire severity.
Source: Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Healthy forests are vital for clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, our quality of life, wildfire resilience and the economic health of our rural economies. But the state’s forests, particularly in Central and Eastern Washington, are in crisis. Hot, dry conditions coupled with overly dense, diseased and dying forests are leading to catastrophic wildfires.
The number of acres burned annually has increased significantly. In 2018 alone, more than 438,000 acres of wildland burned in Washington state. This represents an increase of 45 percent over the average acres burned from 2009 to 2017.
Without intervention, this trend toward uncharacteristically severe fires will continue. By the 2080s, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest are expected to burn four times as many acres annually when compared with the annual acres burned from 1916 to 2007. Through an all-lands, all-hands approach, Washington is working to restore forests and enhance forest resiliency to severe wildfires, drought, and insect and disease outbreaks.
Long history of wildfire suppression – More than a century of putting out forest fires has allowed our forests to grow too dense, making them compete for nutrients, water and sunlight, and making them more susceptible to health problems and catastrophic wildfires.
Climate change and drought – Drought conditions dramatically increase the risk of large, severe wildfires as well as large insect outbreaks. In 2017, Washington experienced drought statewide during the summer and had the third warmest summer on record, surpassing both 2016 and 2015. Climate projections indicate that the climate from 2015 – Washington’s worst fire year – will be the norm by the middle of this century.
Past forest management practices – Past logging practices removed our largest, most resilient trees from the landscape.
Damage by disease and insects – Approximately 230,000 acres of forest in Central and Eastern Washington were damaged by insects and disease in 2018.
Human encroachment – As Washington's population grows, people continue to move into wilderness areas prone to wildfire. If the state poorly manages this growth, the safety and property of Washingtonians will be at higher risk of wildfire.