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Cooler weather, light rain haven’t eased state, county burn bans

Fire crews battle wildfire near Sumas in north Whatcom County

Whatcom County Sheriff's Office Deputy Director of Emergency Management John Gargett talks about efforts to contain a wildfire in north Whatcom County near Sumas on Thursday, Aug. 25.
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Whatcom County Sheriff's Office Deputy Director of Emergency Management John Gargett talks about efforts to contain a wildfire in north Whatcom County near Sumas on Thursday, Aug. 25.

Whatcom County residents are in for a respite this week from August’s record-breaking heat, but it’s too soon to know if that will have an effect on the state and local burn bans that prohibit all outdoor fires, even recreational ones.

Meanwhile, Labor Day weekend is shaping up as much cooler and possibly rainy, said forecasters at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

“We’re looking at some showers that will continue to fall through the end of the week and then taper off,” said meteorologist Josh Smith. In all, Smith said Western Washington residents should expect “cooler and wetter” weather for the next week or so.

What we’re looking for is moisture recovery. What we need is substantial rain.

Mitch Nolze, Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office

“There might be some sunbreaks in there, but it’ll be cool,” he said, with daytime highs in the 60s.

Cooler temperatures have prompted calls about easing the burn ban to the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office, which expanded its restrictions Aug. 18 to include even recreational fires.

All outdoor burning, including campfires and charcoal cooking fires, was banned Aug. 17 on state lands – including campgrounds – a restriction that’s in place until Sept. 30. There is no blanket ban at developed campgrounds on federal land in the Mount Baker Ranger District, but many trails and campsites have permanent fire bans.

Firefighters fought small brush fires almost daily for several weeks around Whatcom County as August turned hot and dry mid-month. Bellingham saw high-temperature records broken on four days with heat in the mid- to upper 80s. The mercury soared to the 90s inland.

“What we’re looking for is moisture recovery,” Whatcom County fire inspector Mitch Nolze said. “What we need is substantial rain. We try to coordinate with the (state Department of Natural Resources), but theirs is for a set period.”

Bellingham received .04 of an inch of rain during brief showers early Sunday, Aug. 28. No rain was recorded at Bellingham International Airport on Sunday evening, although scattered light showers fell in other areas of Whatcom County. About the same amount of rain was recorded late Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening, Aug. 27, as a few sprinkles fell.

Meteorologist Smith said the heaviest rain will fall Wednesday, Aug. 31.

“We could get maybe a quarter to a half-inch of rain in the form of showers, but nothing like winter,” Smith said. “Because it’s showers, some areas may not get any rain.”

Smith said climate models for next week and the week after show below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation.

He said normal September highs are around 70, with overnight lows in the 50s. September rainfall averages 1.78 inches, so a half-inch of rain this week is not unusual, Smith said.

Even so, Smith said long-range climate models are showing above-normal temperatures through November.

“It’s not necessarily the last warm spell of the year,” he said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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