Wildfire season comes a little early

Wildfire season comes a little early »Play Video
TRI-CITIES -- Wildfire season is back. A weekend wildfire near Southridge was the first major wildfire of the year. Fire crews say it's only likely to get worse.

Smoke filled the air around Kennewick Sunday. The first major brush fire of the season ravaged a hillside. Collin Mertens lives in Southridge where the fire came pretty close to his development.

"I did what any good person would do and went up over the hill to see what was going on," he says.

Roughly 50 acres of dry brush burned, but no homes were lost.

"It can be kind of scary sometimes, especially when there's a lot of big flames," Collin added.

Fire investigators think this was likely started by a person and not something like a lightning strike. Benton County Chief Bill Whealan expects a severe fire season for the Tri-Cities.

"They've got weather patterns that are predicted to be something like the 2005-2006 fire season we had here, which is much more significant than we've had in the last couple years," he says.

Without much rain or snow this winter -- the ground get extremely dry.
The Chief keeps his crews training constantly for a quick response.
Sunday's fire may have started by someone on an ATV or taking target practice. But they can't control all risks.

"The lightning strikes that are dry, it's really problematic for us and we have to get on it quickly or it will take off and leave us in the dust," Bill says.

Collin will hope that nothing gets any closer -- even with severe conditions expected.

"We've lived here for 12 years and we've had a couple scares here and there but nothing really got to the point where we need to get out," he says.

While fire crews are anticipating weather to be the biggest challenge this fire season, they also say the most dangerous times can be around the Fourth of July.