BIG LAKE — Though summer isn’t officially here, state and federal firefighters are preparing for the upcoming fire season.

“Firefighters are aware this season is going to be a potentially hard year,” said Nick Cronquist, public information officer for the state Department of Natural Resources’ South Puget Sound region.

In a mock 4-acre fire Thursday at Devil’s Rock Garden near Big Lake, state fire crews worked with U.S. Forest Service firefighters and those from the Washington Conservation Corps to prepare for the upcoming fire season.

Wildfires are becoming more frequent and are starting earlier in the year, said Rich Dodd, rivers district manager for Natural Resources’ Northwest region.

“Our fire seasons are increasing,” he said. “It’s not ‘fire season’ anymore, it’s a new ‘fire year.’”

With increased fire danger comes increased preparation, including working closer with partners, Dodd said.

“All lands, all hands,” he said. “We’re all trying to fight forest fires together.”

For Thursday’s drill, about 63 firefighters, including seasonal and permanent Natural Resources employees and two U.S. Forest Service crews, participated.

The training was good practice for new and returning wildland firefighters, said David Way, fire manager for Natural Resources Northwest region.

“We often get stretched thin for resources in the summer,” Way said.

In preparation, Natural Resources has stationed nine helicopter crews throughout the state, including three in Western Washington.

One of those crews is stationed at Skagit County Fire District 10’s Big Lake station.

“Having it here is good support,” Dodd said. “If we can keep those fires small, we’re not going to incur those costs.”

The agency is also asking the public to make sure homes and properties are as safe as they can be.

“It’s going to be getting hot and dry soon,” Way said. “It’s very important that people are safe with their campfires and fireworks.”

That includes making sure grass is cut, gutters are clear, and trees and foliage are not too close to structures.

“It’s the fuels next to your homes that burn,” Cronquist said. “Normally, this is a message for the east side, but over the past five years, we’ve proved there are large fires here.”

In Skagit County, wildfires have been common the past several years, including the Burnout Road and Suiattle fires last year, the Cranberry Lake fire in 2016 and the Upper Skagit Complex fires in 2015.

“We prep, you prep, and we’ll all come together,” he said.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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