ROCK ISLAND — With temperatures near freezing and wind chills in the mid-20s, a brush fire broke out Tuesday night, threatening several homes near Rock Island.
The temperature was unusual for a brush fire — and so was the date. A start date of Oct. 28 makes the Webb Place Fire one of the latest in the past decade, according to state Department of Natural Resources data.
Only one other fire in Chelan or Douglas counties, bigger than 1 acre, started later in the year: The Monitor Fire on Nov. 1, 2017, according to the DNR database. That fire burned 1,100 acres near Highway 2/97.
DNR’s database only includes blazes that happened on DNR-protected land, but it’s still a good indicator of fire seasonality, said Douglas County Fire Marshal Kurt Blanchard.
Like most fires, wind played a big factor in the Webb Place Fire’s rapid growth on Tuesday. Pangborn Memorial Airport recorded sustained 35-mph winds and gusts of 46 mph just before 7 p.m.
“Even though it’s cold out, when you’re looking at fire behavior, the relative humidity, slope and winds are still going to play a factor in the development of a fire,” Blanchard said Tuesday.
The Webb Place Fire also ticked the other two boxes: steep slopes and humidity in the 20s-30s, according to Pangborn weather data.
“Topography is huge; it gives the fire a chance to run uphill,” Douglas County Fire District 2 Chief Dave Baker said Tuesday. “The amount of fuel that was along that edge was, from what I understand, very heavy.”
And when the wind is whipping, fuels aren’t phased by a low ambient temperature, Baker said.
“It’s very cold for the guys fighting the fire, but the fuels are superheated by the winds,” he said.
The key is to not be fooled by the temperature, Blanchard said, because fires can quickly spread any time of the year.
“Fires, if they’re burning, whether agriculture or private burn, need to be extinguished by nighttime,” he said.