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Summer weather brings burn bans for Western Washington counties

In Eastern Washington, wild fires are fiercely burning, but a burn ban will decrease King County’s chances of spreading flames.

A phase one burn ban was issued in King, Pierce, Kitsap, Mason and Snohomish counties at 8 a.m. Thursday. Outdoor fires must be contained in legal fire pits and attended at all times.

A phase one ban prohibits burning in the forest and burning of yard debris. However, it does allow for fires contained in legal fire pits and located on privately-owned land. Properly contained camp fires are also allowed.

Approved fire pits are metal or concrete structures. These have walls and better prohibit embers from escaping the fire pit, John Klopfenstein, King County Fire Marshal, said. Fires cannot exceed three feet in width and must be located a horizontal minimum of 10 feet and a vertical minimum of 20 feet from vegetation. They must be closely watched and a garden hose or five-gallon bucket of water must be on-hand. Immediate access to a shovel is also required.

The past two week’s temperatures, many which registered in the high 70s and some which reached beyond 80 degrees, spurred the burn ban. The moisture levels in forests are measured consistently.

“With the dry heat we are experiencing, this (moisture) measurement has dropped dramatically in the last week,” Klopfenstein said.

When ground branches three inches in diameter or less reach moisture levels of 20 percent, a high fire hazard is in place, Klopfenstein said. As of Wednesday, the moisture level had declined to 18 percent, he said.

“We are well beyond the high fire hazard level,” Klopfenstein said.

In addition to moisture levels, the number of firefighting units and equipment available to battle fire outbreaks plays a factor in when a burn ban is issued, he said. The burn ban was announced early this week, when seven of King County’s fire units were fighting flames in Eastern Washington. All seven crews were released to come home Thursday.

If firefighters are again deployed to fight large-scale fires, a phase two burn ban, which prohibits all outdoor burning, could be put in place, Klopfenstein said. To avoid fires here at home he suggests properly disposing of cigarette butts.

“The most important thing people can do is not throw cigarettes from their cars,” Klopfenstein said.

The ban is expected to continue until moisture levels rise as a result of cooler, wetter weather. This will mean the ban could continue through the summer, Klopfenstein said.

Anyone in violation of the burn ban will likely be visited by South King Fire and Rescue, spokeswoman Kendra Kay said. The fire district responds to illegal fires and generally asks the fire be extinguished, she said. If the problem is reoccurring, it could be passed onto the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and a fine could be issued, she said. Those violating the ban may not face immediate consequences for their actions, but each time a fire engine is sent out for non-emergency reasons, it impacts South King Fire and Rescue’s ability to serve the community.

“Every time the engine goes out of the station and responds it costs fuel, staffing and apparatus,” Kay said.

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

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For more information on local fire restrictions call the King County Fire Marshal Division at 206-296-6675 or 1-800-323-BURN. Legal camping areas and state parks generally have information posted as to what, if any, type of burning is allowed, Klopfenstein said.

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