Given recent fire seasons and projections for an active fire season to come, the “good news” on this topic can be hard to find.

Well, Wednesday’s Daily Record contained some good news about the coming fire season. Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Natural Resources is working to reduce fuels along Interstate 90, particularly along the stretch east of Kittitas to the Columbia River.

Fires have been increasing along that stretch of I-90 for the past several years. The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office sent a letter to the DOT in 2017 hoping to address the situation.

Over the years there had been changes in management of the strips of land bordering the interstate — primarily reducing the use of herbicide to control vegetation.

But it turns out the causes went beyond the roadside grasses and brush. KVFR Deputy Chief Rich Elliott said when investigating the area they found loose hay from trucks traveling the interstate was caught in the roadside grasses and brush.

“What is happening is the hay comes in not as tightly packed as it is when it goes into containers to be shipped out,” Elliott said. “So parts of that blow off and so that dry cheatgrass catches all that light debris and we were seeing two-three-four inches of really, really light fuel.”

That helps explain why I-90 has served as match strip through that section of the county. There are always going to be some level of fires along the interstate — overheated vehicles, tossed cigarettes, etc. — but the past few years the portion of road could best be described as “amazingly combustible.”

DOT officials say they will clear “down to the dirt” from Kittitas (mile post 115) to mile post 137, from both side of the roadway and under guardrails.

Any reduction in I-90 fires will prove beneficial to the entire county and the traveling public. A fire along I-90 is not just an annoyance because it can close the road, it’s a serious public safety hazard even if there are not homes and businesses in that area. A few years ago smoke from an I-90 fire in that area was thought to be a contributing factor in a fatality collision.

Also, those fires suck up fire and law enforcement resources. The unfortunate fact is fires occur in many areas throughout the forested and rural areas. If there are fewer I-90 fires more crews will be available when other fires occur.

Kudos to all the local and state agencies working together to improve fire safety along I-90.

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