Low snowpack this winter could lead to an earlier, and more extreme fire season in the Northwest.

In many parts of Oregon and Washington, the snowpack is just ten to twenty percent of the average. It’s not that precipitation is low, it’s just that it has fallen as rain rather than snow.

John Saltenberger is with the Interagency Coordination center in Portland. He says the low snowpack means fire season could come early. Normally, firefighters are brought on in June, in anticipation of fires starting in July or August.

“If the dryness that we’re seeing now continues I fully anticipate we’re going to see staffing up a few weeks earlier than usual,” he says.

 On Tuesday, the Oregon Department of Forestry responded to a 100-acre fire in Grant County. The cause of the fire is unknown, but burn piles are common this time of year.

“Because of the drought the forests are more receptive to starts, and while lightning starts aren’t that likely, human starts are possible. We’re seeing those already,” Saltenberger says.

The severity of summer fires could depend on summer temperatures, and lightning storms.