After last year’s fire season began in February, this spring has seemed like a relief with more rainfall and cooler temperatures. This assumption, however, hasn’t eased the nerves of any fire departments in eastern Washington as forest fires are a constant threat.
“For some people this spring may have seemed wetter and. compared to last year, it was,” Stevens County District 1 Chief Mike Bucy said. “But it was still drier than the average.”
You can’t blame people for thinking this year’s spring has been better, since last year was the worst fire season in state history. The rain this year, however, has created another problem as undergrowth will have grown taller and now provides more low-level fuel in area forests.
“That’s where a lot of forest fires start,” Bucy said. “They don’t start at the tree tops, they start in the undergrowth.”
And what fire departments are facing is a coming summer that will be just a dry as last year but with more fuel. While some areas dry out quickier than others, the green look of the landscape is already deceiving and some green plants are already dead or dying, which means they’re a very capable quickstarting fuel. Stevens County Fire Districts approached this Fourth of July weekend with caution, readying extra staff for the holiday weekend in case of fireworks-caused fires.
They’ll also bring in extra staff when there is a red-flag warning or windy conditions so they can respond quickly to reports of fires. Bucy recommends that people be extra vigilant in keeping brush away from their houses, focus on watering to keep nearby shrubs and bushes green and limb up trees while also keeping branches and pine needles away from the house.
Burn bans have already been initiated in Stevens County and statewide on DNR lands. Fire danger has been moved to “High” in the area as a warning to people that fires can get out of control quickly. Burning has now been limited to small camp fires and chimneys and Bucy stresses wasting no time in alerting authorities to fires.
“Fire spreads very rapidly because of dryness,” Bucy said. “Most people think they can control a fire with something like a garden hose and it doesn’t take long for a fire to get out of hand.”
While fire season hasn’t whipped into the disaster it was last year, Bucy expects either a condensed fire season or one that would go later in the year. Either way, fire departments know it’s going to be a battle either way.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff