‘I Think It’s Going to Get Worse:’ Fire Danger High in Southwest Washington

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

As Southwest Washington bakes under a week-long heatwave, firefighters are urging residents to be aware of increased fire danger as well as the danger to health and safety from high temperatures.

“I am concerned … because of the increasing heat, the lowering of the fuel moisture that’s out there,” said Assistant Chief Rick Mack of the Riverside Fire Authority.

Due to Southwest Washington’s wet spring, grasses and other vegetation grew rapidly. However, after several weeks with no rain, the plants are dying, leaving dry fuel that could easily catch fire.

Heavy equipment, vehicles and trains can all throw unintended sparks that could start a fire.

“It’s not always cigarette butts out the window,” said Gregg Peterson, president of the Lewis County Fire Chiefs Association.

The state Department of Natural Resources listed the risk of wildfire in Lewis, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Skamania and Clark counties as “high” this week.

All debris burning has been banned on DNR land in Lewis County since July 19. Recreational burning on DNR land is limited to approved fire pits at designated campgrounds. Fireworks, exploding targets, sky lanterns and tracer ammunition are illegal on DNR-protected land.

Pacific, Thurston and Pierce counties have a “moderate” risk of wildfire, according to the agency.

Earlier this month, Lewis County enacted a burn ban excluding camp or other recreational fires.

On Wednesday, Thurston County expanded its own burn ban to include some recreational fires. The ban is scheduled to last until Sept. 4.

Thurston County’s burn ban applies to recreational fires except those in approved concrete, stone or metal pits. Charcoal briquettes, gas and propane grills are also allowed.

Hot weather dries out fuel for fire, but the high-pressure weather system driving the hot temperatures and late-afternoon wind creates additional concerns for firefighters, Mack said.

“It’s very very concerning that if fire gets going with that wind it can be driven pretty quickly,” he said. “As the fire grows, it begins to create its own wind and it can move even more rapidly.”

If dry and hot conditions continue, Peterson said area chiefs will likely consider recommending more restrictions on recreational fires to the burn ban. He said that probably won’t happen in the next week.

“I think it’s going to get worse. I don’t see any rain in the forecast in the next two weeks,” Peterson said.

For more information on the DNR’s fire danger warnings and burn restrictions in Washington counties, go to https://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/protection/firedanger/.