A wetter-than-normal spring doesn't mean you don't have to worry about wildfire season.
With the alleged “summer” weather in the Seattle area so far, talk of the fire season may not seem timely to you.
Nonetheless, there are still some things you need to know, for this Fourth of July weekend and beyond, according to area fire officials and weather experts.
First of all, it might seem as though a wetter-than-normal spring would make for a shortened or less-dangerous wildfire season. That isn’t the case.
In fact, more rain means more lush grass, shrub and tree growth, ultimately resulting in what fire officials call “fuel loading” — more material to burn when it finally does fully dry out. This season, that’s about two or three weeks behind schedule, which means early- or mid-August.
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The rain should stop after this weekend, and temperatures are expected to climb. Grasses will be dried-out enough to catch fire by next week.
This week, six helicopter-attack crews from Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trained near Ellensburg, getting ready for later this summer when they might be called on to race to wildfires around the state to suppress them before they grow out of control.
The DNR is the state’s largest on-call fire department, covering 12.7 million acres of private-, state- and tribal-owned forestlands in Washington.
While it might be cool for them to jump into helicopters and race to growing fires, fire officials would rather they didn’t have to. They’re calling on residents to help with prevention, and take steps to minimize fire growth and damage should one start.
Your main responsibility, they say: Create a “defensible space” around your home. That doesn’t mean digging a moat, but rather that you trim branches and the like that could be fuel in a fire, clearing 30 feet between your house and flammable grasses and vegetation.
That’s as important as ever this weekend, when Fourth of July fireworks are likely to be set off close to homes and other buildings. The people responsible for putting out fires (The King County Fire Chiefs Association) would prefer that you watch any of the numerous public fireworks displays in the region operated by “professional pyrotechnics” — particularly in light of tight budgets and firefighting resources already stretched thin.
Last year in King County, fireworks caused 302 fires and injured 29 people, according to the Washington State Fire Marshal. Children are most likely to be injured by fireworks; and the head, face and hands are the most common areas.
Understand your own community’s rules on fireworks, and make sure you use legal ones. Many cities have specific hours in which fireworks are allowed. They’re only allowed on July Fourth in some cities and banned altogether in others. They’re illegal on state-protected or public land. Call your local fire department if you don’t know.
The work of 911 dispatchers is usually doubled on the July Fourth. Call 911 when you see fireworks endangering safety or property. For nonessential fireworks matters in Seattle, call the Seattle police’s nonemergency line: 206-625-1770.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org