PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There have been more wildfires the past 3 years than normal. Officials with the Regional Coordination Center in Portland said 2022 is set up to be another active wildfire season.
The focus now is Central Oregon where a few small fires have already erupted this year. The rain over the past few months will likely delay fire season but it’s not likely to soften the blow.
“We anticipate having a very busy fire year every year now,” said Alex Robertson of the US Forest Service.
Higher-than-average temperatures are projected for most of the country, including Oregon. The rain faucet is also expected to shut off this summer, with below-average precipitation expected.
“We’re going to turn the corner probably in June and start shifting into hotter, drier conditions than what we have seen in April and May,” said Fire Coordinator John Saltenberger with US Fish & Wildlife.
He said the spring moisture will likely just delay fire season but not make it any less severe.
“It happens almost every year,” said Mike Shaw, the chief of fire protection for the Oregon Forestry Department. “But it tends to be getting, it seems, exponentially worse from one year to the next is what we’ve seen.”
Both Oregon and the federal government have invested in fire fighting equipment in the Northwest with more fire fighters and more aircraft. But fire season is expected to get worse as the summer goes along. Federal resources shared among the Western United States could be pulled across the region.
“The big unknown is how long fire season lasts in the South,” Robertson said. “Last year the Southwest was busy when we were having fires, that’s not normal. That stretches the workforce out more than what it’s designed to provide.”
Shaw said the investments in fire fighting aircraft help lessen Oregon’s dependency, but the state still relies on out-of-state resources. That means the recent investments in infrastructure may not be enough.
“It’s something we are all evaluating,” Robertson said. “Is our current system designed to deal with the problem we’re seeing today? That ship doesn’t turn fast. But it does turn.”