A national organization has set its fire risk level for the country at 4 out of 5, prompting fire officials in eastern Washington to warn the community of the risks of a hot, dry and scorching summer.
Candice Stevenson, head of public information at the National Interagency Fire Center, said the fire preparedness levels guide where the national organization is sending its resources and how much will go to each region.
The NIFC is working nationwide to ensure high-risk areas have sufficient firefighting tools nearby, she said. A level 4 means that the risk is high enough that the agency needs to mobilize more resources.
âIt’s an internal indication for us to know that there will be a greater amount of resources that need to be distributed,â Stevenson said. âThere is an increased risk of potential fire. “
Fire risk is determined by a number of factors, said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer. Eastern Washington suffered a drier-than-usual spring followed by a worse-than-usual drought, creating a dangerous cocktail of risk factors, Schaeffer said.
So far, the fires that Spokane firefighters responded to in June have been mostly man-made, Schaeffer said.
Stevenson said 87% of all fires are caused by human activity.
âIt’s not usually intentional,â Stevenson said. âIt’s just things that happen like a campfire or a spark caused by the use of equipment. Especially when you have high winds, it can be a bigger problem because the winds are going to blow that embers or spark even further. “
Dustin Flock, the Spokane County Fire District No.3 fire prevention division chief, said conditions over the past year have also led to drying of wood, grass and sagebrush.
With strong winds and low humidity, these are particularly dangerous conditions as firefighters have a harder time controlling fires that climb trees, Flock said.
âThis is when you need to start using airplanes,â Flock said.
The NIFC provides resources at the national level to agencies, but Flock said small jurisdictions also depend on the state. Spokane County Fire District 3 will likely get one of its needed firefighting planes from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Flock said.
Schaeffer said Spokane County is sort of an “island” when it comes to firefighting, so many districts in the area will share their resources. That’s why, when a fire in North Spokane caused by a lighter took half of the city’s fire resources on Saturday, surrounding agencies also helped.
âWe work as one systemâ¦ But we can only do it so many times,â Schaeffer said. “Two, three big fires can really have a disastrous impact on the availability of resources.”
Flock said community members can help prevent fires by first removing dry debris or kindling from around their garden.
In more rural areas where homes are located near the forest, Flock said people should consider moving any firewood to the side of their homes. He said people should clean under their porches and in all gutters for needles and pine leaves.
Uncluttered yards will help firefighters save the home if the fire reaches the property, Flock said.
Stevenson said those who wish to travel to the state will need to consider the restrictions, as they often vary by county.
In Spokane County, which is at a moderate to high risk level, according to a Washington State Department of Natural Resources burning restrictions map, certain restrictions will apply.
Permit and rule burns are prohibited, and some campfires are permitted in designated areas, according to the map. These same restrictions apply to Lincoln and Whitman counties.
National Forests have banned all campfires, Stevenson said, so people will need to keep that in mind if they are going to a national park or a forest.
Flock said southeast Washington is getting drier than Spokane, so there is a greater risk of fire.
According to the burning restrictions map, Walla Walla, Yakima, Benton and Klickitat counties have also banned permitted and regulated fires, most campfires, and the use of fireworks.