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Warmer, drier summer forecast could bring another ‘very significant’ wildfire season

SEATTLE -- Washington's wildfire management teams are gearing up for what could be another "very significant" wildfire season.

According to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center, there's a 50 percent chance that western Washington will see above average temperatures in April, May and June. The  three-month outlook comes as Washington wraps up the its third-coldest February since 1945. Snowfall records were broken at Sea-Tac Airport and around the Puget Sound.

Those warmer, sunnier days ahead could bring a repeat of last year's wildfire season.

Hillary Franz, Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, said wildfire management teams predict another busy year.

Last year, the Department of Natural Resources responded to more than 1,850 wildfires, a record number, that burned about 440,000 acres. Wildfires are typically more common on the east side of the Cascades, where the climate is drier, but western Washington saw a big increase in wildfires last year.

As the state’s population grows, more than 2.2 million homes now lie in the potential path of wildfires, according to a recent U.S. Forest Service study.

Franz's office has drafted a 10-year plan to strengthen the state's wildfire fighting abilities, including adding 30 full-time and 40 seasonal firefighters and two helicopters.

Between 2013 and 2018, DNR said it cost an average of $153 million in state and federal money per year to fight wildfires. That period included Washington’s record-setting wildfire seasons in 2014 and 2015.

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