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Dryness sparks wildfire season

Leaping flames can rapidly consume acres of wildlands, ignited by the disposal of a single cigarette.

The warm, dry weather of August has arrived, indicating an increased risk for wildland fires and brush fires.

Many fires are caused by carelessness. Brush and wildland fires often begin when a person discards a cigarette into roadside vegetation, according to the summer 2007 South King Fire and Rescue newsletter. Several brush fires are also caused by young children playing with lighters and matches in wooded or grassy areas, the newsletter said.

“We always see an increase in brush fires over the summer months,” SKFR spokeswoman Kendra Kay said.

Wildland and brush fires most commonly occur in places with a significant amount of plant growth and low number of homes. Examples of such locations near Federal Way are Spring Valley and Five Mile Lake.

Also, ravines in Dash Point State Park and Saltwater State Park also need to be monitored. Firefighting in these areas is hampered by limited access and few fire hydrants, according to the newsletter.

Large wildland fires do not generally pose a problem for residents and firefighters in Federal Way, but if a fire does break out in the area, local fire districts would rely on one another for support and help in fighting the flames, SKFR spokeswoman Donna Conner said.

South King Fire and Rescue has a team of firefighters deemed “Red Card” certified. These 20 firefighters annually receive special training on how to fight wildland fires, said Chuck Kahler, South King Fire and Rescue Operations Battalion Chief.

As opposed to structure fires, wildland fires cannot be tackled and distinguish quickly, he said. Wildland fires are combatted by preventing the spread of the flames, he said.

South King Fire and Rescue’s certified team has assisted in fighting fires and protecting threatened structures in Eastern Washington for the past several years, he said. The team is keeping watch on weather conditions and preparing itself for the possibility of being deployed to assist with fires that may break out there in August, Kahler said.

“Late July to early September is traditionally the time we see the more significant wildfires,” he said.

July’s rainfall has provided needed fuel for vegetation in Eastern Washington to grow, Kahler said. This growth will likely dry out in the coming months and increase the danger of wildland fires, he said. Significant fires, the most recent happening in early July near Wenatchee, have already broken out this summer, Kahler said.

“If this is happening in early July, then what is going to happen in August?” he said.

Fire season

So far in 2007, 56,536 fires have burned 4,623,092 acres of land in the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center Web site, www.nifc.gov.

As of July 30, 190 acres were burning in the Cascades National Park near Tolo, Wash., 33 miles west of Winthrop. The fire is 30 percent contained and poses threats to residents and structures, according to the NIFC Web site. Another fire has burned about 3,000 acres near Les Blair, Wash., 11 miles southeast of Kennewick. This fire is 50 percent contained, according to the same Web site.

Wildland fires were a persistent problem throughout the country in 2006. The number of fires and the total acres of land burned set record highs. More than 96 thousand fires caused damage to nearly 10 million acres of land, according to the Web site.

In efforts to prevent wildland fires in Washington, agencies — such as local fire departments, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which operates in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources — enforce burning regulations. Burn bans are not uncommon during the warm months and can proceed into the fall, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Web site, www2.wadnr.gov.

Fire safety burn bans are issued and regulated by local fire departments. Burning in densely populated areas is restricted by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Burning outside highly populated areas can require a burn permit, which may be obtained from the local fire district.

The most recent burn ban in King County was lifted at 8 a.m. July 27. Dry weather conditions may call for more burn bans to be issued this summer.

Burning waste, such as garbage, agricultural residue, animal carcasses, asphalt, petroleum products, cardboard, paint, rubber products, plastics, treated wood, construction or demolition debris and metal is illegal to burn in any outdoor fire, whether a burn ban is in place or not, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The use of a burn barrel is also illegal.

Violating these rules may result in expensive consequences.

Anyone causing an illegal fire could face a fine starting at $2,000 and ranging up to $15,000 for each incident, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. One can also expect to reimburse the fire department for its response efforts to an illegal fire, according to www.pscleanair.org.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Contact South King Fire and Rescue at (253) 839-6234 to learn more about burn bans, fire permits and fire prevention tips. The King County Department of Development and Environmental Services lists burn ban information for unincorporated King County at www.metrokc.gov/permits/publications/news/BurnBans.aspx.

Historical fires in Washington:

In 2006, more than 175,000 acres burned in the Tripod Complex Fire in Okanogan County. In July 2001, 9,300 acres were burned in the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, Wash. Four lives were lost in this fire. In 2000, 162,500 acres burned in the Command 24 fire near Spokane.

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