No serious damage was reported after an impressive thunder-and-lightning storm swept through Whatcom County early Monday morning, July 9.
A safety concern remained, however, after fair skies returned by daylight: Lightning strikes in eastern Whatcom Countys forests prompted state and federal agencies to go on the lookout for wildfires.
The Department of Natural Resources, which takes a lead role in fighting wildfires in the state, had crews patrolling Whatcom County on Monday, looking for lightning-caused fires, said Jeff May, a DNR manager in charge of fire protection for northwest Washington.
Fire watchers remain vigilant for two or three days after a lightning storm, May said, because it can take that long for a lightning-caused fire to flare up.
Most of the lightning was cloud-to-cloud, May said.
"We would not be expecting to pick up much, if anything," he said.
U.S. Forest Service officials werent ruling out the possibility of a lightning-caused fire on the national forest lands in Whatcom County.
Most of the lightning strikes were at higher elevations, where there is still some snow, and much of the lower-elevation forest hasnt dried out yet, said John Heckman, assistant fire management officer for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Even so, he said, "It wouldn't surprise me if something showed up in a day or so."
The National Weather Service had predicted a chance of thunderstorms Sunday night in eastern Whatcom County. The thunderstorms, which moved quickly overnight into Canada, were centered on the North Cascades foothills, Weather Service meteorologist Jay Neher said.
"They just moved a little further west than we thought," he said.
Most of the lightning struck in Whatcom and northern Skagit counties, May said.
Sunday was the warmest day of 2012 so far, with Bellingham International Airport recording 80 degrees.Western Washington appears to be locked into a warm, sunny weather pattern for the foreseeable future. Temperatures are expected to reach the 70s at least through Sunday, July 15, with some indication that fair weather will continue into next week, according to the Weather Service.
As the state settles into summer weather, DNR will be increasingly alert to the threat of wildfire, May said. As of Monday, only 10 of the 39 counties were above "low" fire danger, but that's going to change.
"In northwest Washington, still we consider it low fire danger at this point, but we are in the beginning of long warmer and drier predicted weather here," May said.
"As the weather gets hotter and drier, we expect the incidence of fires to increase," he added.
Lightning strikes on Monday, July 9, put Whatcom County forests at risk of wildfire, but 90 percent of fires in 2011 were caused by people. Here are some fire prevention tips:
Make campfires only in designated fire pits.
Never leave a campfire unattended.
Douse a campfire completely, using water and a shovel.
Do not park vehicles on dry vegetation. Ride off-road vehicles away from vegetation, and use a spark arrester.
Do not toss cigarettes out of vehicle windows. Extinguish with water if possible.
SOURCE: Department of Natural Resources
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