Three of the largest wildfires in state history have occurred in the past nine years. Fire officials warn residents about becoming complacent.
SNOHOMISH DISTRICT, Wash. – Western Washington has been largely free of wildfires this season, but officials are reminding residents they’re a long way from getting out of the danger zone.
New recruits of wasteland firefighters are now being trained to go to the front lines when on duty, and with fires in the western part of the state becoming more frequent, they are needed more than ever.
Snohomish Area Fire and Rescue (SRFR) recruits dug a fire line around a house. They are learning how to save property and people.
Among them is Mitch Wurm.
At 32 and a father of two under the age of 3, preparing for a bushfire doesn’t sound like the safest career path, but Wurm sees it differently.
“I mean someone has to do it, right? I know I’m in good shape. I’m strong. It’s just how I can help the people around me and help the community,” he said.
The three biggest fires in Washington state history all occurred in the past nine years, burning nearly a million acres.
Increasingly, fires spread to western Washington, including the Sumner-class fire that destroyed four homes in Sumner three years ago.
Witnessing such devastation in a local suburb makes training meaningful.
“Everything we’re doing is very rigorous, very detailed, because those details are going to be very important when someone’s life is in danger,” Wurm said.
While the end of summer is approaching, and wildfire season is relatively quiet, firefighters say this is not the time to become complacent.
“Late August and early September are bushfire season for us,” said SRFR lieutenant Brian Kees.
With that in mind, emergency managers in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Thurston counties are change how they issue evacuation warnings. The goal is to make them clearer. Instead of levels 1, 2 and 3, they are now labeled as “Ready”, “Put” and “Go”.
“Ready” means that a threat may be coming your way and you should start planning to leave.
“Set” means prepare to evacuate – assemble an emergency kit and pack important papers and medications. Elderly and disabled people should leave at this time.
“Go” indicates immediate danger and you need to leave immediately.
And right now, weather conditions are perfect for issuing those warnings.
“These fuels are about to run out,” Kees said. “This is our time. A small spark starts something big.”
With weeks and years of uncertainty ahead, Wurm and the rest of the recruits knew that no one was safe from wildfire.
That is why they feel called to protect their fellow citizens.
“Maybe my family is in that house,” Wurm said. “I know many of us feel the same way. That’s why we’re here to fight for each other and for the community.”