At the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington, and across the West, winter’s deep snow and a cool spring have produced lots of brush and grass.
That’s a problem for the coming fire season.
Hanford and the region surrounding it is a desert. Sagebrush and bunchgrass stud the site. But there’s also a lot of invasive cheatgrass that forms a brittle shag carpet across the landscape. And then there are drifts of tumbleweeds. The site’s a bit like an expansive fire starter. It’s all fine if there isn’t a spark. “You have to have luck,” said Norb Kuhman, chief of the Hanford Fire Department. “Anyone in this business realizes how fortunate we get at times, or how unfortunate we get at other times, based on prevailing weather conditions -- the wind speeds, the humidity. It all goes into play.”
Kuhman said his crews have to defend sensitive wildlands, historic structures and radioactive waste sites at Hanford. There are about 100 firefighters rolling out on these lands -- with more heavy equipment operators and helpers.