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Fire Season Challenges Western States

A view of the Wolverine Fire near Holden, Washington, on August 12, 2015.
Kari Greer
A view of the Wolverine Fire near Holden, Washington, on August 12, 2015.

Another round of warm weather this week is prompting Northwest fire managers to warn that this summer's challenging fire season isn't over yet.

This comes as federal and state officials debate how to pay for the increasing costs of battling the blazes.

How bad has the fire season been in Oregon and Washington? Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Protection Deputy Division Doug Grafe said on a single day in late August, there were more than 1,500 miles of uncontained fire lines in the two states.

Grafe called that level of activity genuinely scary for a veteran fire manager like himself. He told the state Forestry Board Wednesday that the cost of reining in those fires is also cause for concern.

"If you look at the last three years as a state, we're challenged financially,” Grafe said. “We haven't seen these types of costs for fire seasons."

States across the west are facing the same dilemma. The cost of fighting fires has caused some agencies to cut back in other activities such as forest-thinning projects.

Just this week U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decried that trend while visiting wildfire in northeast Washington. She urged that forest fires be treated like natural disasters when it comes to funding.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.