This weekend’s sunny and windy forecast, with temperatures expected to reach the low 80s, also comes with a heightened wildfire risk for the region.

The state Department of Natural Resources issued a news release this week asking the public to refrain from burning through the weekend.

Residents burning debris caused 120 of the 230 wildfires the state agency has responded to so far in 2020.

Of particular concern are the east-northeast winds forecast to reach gusts up to 25 mph while temperatures are warm and the landscape dry.

“This abnormally warm and dry condition will have the greatest impact to the western slopes of the Cascades,” the news release states. “In areas with fine fuels, such as grasses, fires will burn with greater intensity and move rapidly with high winds.”

Natural Resources meteorologist Josh Clark said east winds are often a factor in Western Washington wildfires.

Although the state Drought Monitor indicates Skagit is one of six northwest Washington counties not currently experiencing drought conditions and the National Interagency Fire Center forecasts a normal wildfire season for the area through the summer, the weekend weather still creates risk.

“Drought is the overall season modifier, but extreme events, such as east winds, can influence fire activity on shorter durations, like this weekend, for areas such as the west slopes of the Cascades,” Clark said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated wildfire response training, but local leaders are forging ahead to prepare for the height of the fire season in Washington, in July and August.

“They might have to sit far apart for the classroom portion and wear surgical masks, but our intention is to hold the class,” said Skagit County Fire District 11 Chief Mike Noyes, who organizes a four-day training for firefighters in the area each June.

The fire district, also known as the Mount Erie Fire Department, offers classroom and field training at its fire hall and on nearby forest land outside Anacortes. Noyes said the field portion of the training should be easier to manage under social distancing requirements in place because of COVID-19.

“The great thing about the field part is when you’re using wildfire tools you’re already required to be 6 feet or more from each other because you’re swinging sharp tools,” he said.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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