Saturday, June 6th marks the date of the tragic Great Seattle Fire in 1889. This fire burned 25 blocks of downtown Seattle near the waterfront. What weather conditions supported this fire? That spring involved warm dry weather conditions. Stiff sea-breeze winds coming off Elliott Bay that warm afternoon helped fan the flames and spread the fire from one building to the next with ease.
Can a fire like that happen today? The short answer is yes, and in recent years, there have been a greater number of dry warm springs and summers. Such dry conditions can elevate the threat of such fast spreading fires, particularly in neighborhoods where homes are quite close to each other.
Fortunately, newer structures have more fire resistant building materials and a state of the art fire response community can help stop such rapid spreading fires. Yet these kinds of fires can still happen thanks to warm dry and breezy weather conditions. Similar warm dry conditions with strong gusty winds were in place in Detroit in early September 2010. Over six dozen homes burned as winds spread the flames from residence to residence.
Another huge urban wildfire example was the October 1991 Oakland Hills, California, event where a wind-whipped fire swept through over 3000 residences, killing 25 and injuring 150. In each of these cases, the fires were human caused during an extended period of warm dry and windy weather conditions.
This summer in the North Sound is expected to be warmer than average with odds tipped toward drier than normal during the driest time of the year. Warm dry conditions together with a strong wind can create fast moving fire conditions. We all can prepare today in advance by building wildfire defensible space around our homes and businesses.
Visit www.firewise.org/ for all the tips such as moving firewood away from your home, trimming tree limbs up off the ground to above your head, and cleaning roofs and gutters of debris. Each of us can help Smokey Bear and his motto – Only You Can Prevent Wildfires – whether in urban or rural areas.