Fire precautions urged for Labor Day weekend

— The state Department of Natural Resources is urging people to be careful this Labor Day weekend.

Most of Washington has seen temperatures higher than normal throughout the summer, with some areas of eastern Washington having gone more than 100 days without precipitation. The combination of heat and lack of precipitation makes forests and grasslands more vulnerable to wildfire and can produce more extreme fire behavior, the agency said.

“While Labor Day usually marks the end of summer, we’ve got a lot of the fire season left to go,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “We’re not seeing any relief from the hot, dry summer we’ve had any time soon, creating conditions that could lead to explosive wildfire growth.

“So far this season, our firefighters have done a great job keeping fires small, but they’ve been stretched thin all summer, due to regional fire activity. I ask everyone to give them a break and be very aware of any activities that may spark new fires.”

DNR has one of the state’s top wildland firefighting teams ready for deployment over the weekend, she said. Crews, fire engines, helicopters and other firefighting aircraft are being pre-deployed to key locations around the state to provide quick response as new fires develop.

This year, 88 percent of Washington wildfires have been human-caused. As of Aug. 28, DNR had responded to 598 wildfires during 2017.

In 2016, the agency responded to 676 fires that burned across 14,246 acres. Other recent years’ fire activity for the ageny include 2015, 873 fires, 326,231 acres; 2014, 676 fires, 191,431 acres; 2013, 87 fires, 89,992 acres, and 2012, 476 fires, 15,181 acres.

Campfires are prohibited on DNR-protected lands in eastern Washington. In western Washington, campers should check with local campground hosts.

Other agency closures include:

-Many cities, including Okanogan and Omak, have burn bans in effect.

-Okanogan and Ferry counties – Burn bans in effect.

-Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area – Fires are prohibited. Exceptions include self-contained propane or gas stoves, or lanterns.

-Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest – Campfires are prohibited. Pressurized liquid gas stoves are OK. Firewood cutting restricted in many areas.

-Bureau of Land Management – Campfires are prohibited. Liquefied and bottled gas stoves and heaters are OK in cleared areas.

-Colville Indian Reservation - Campfires are prohibited; liquid and bottled gas stoves are OK. Reservation roads are closed; exceptions are state highways and county road home access. Except for motor vehicles, internal combustion engines are prohibited. Off-road vehicles are prohibited. Smoking is allowed only in closed vehicles and buildings, developed recreation sites and cleared areas.

DNR officials say people should:

-Build campfires only where authorized and when not under a burn ban; put them completely out before leaving camp, even for a few minutes; use plenty of water and stir until the coals are cold to the touch.

-Dispose of lit smoking materials appropriately.

-Not use fireworks, incendiary ammunition and exploding targets. They are illegal to use or discharge on public lands, including all state forests.

-Be sure chains and other metal parts aren’t dragging from vehicles or trailers. They can throw sparks and start fires.

-Make sure all off-road vehicles have a properly functioning and approved spark arrester.

-Be careful driving through or parking on dry grass or brush. Hot exhaust pipes can start the grass on fire.

-Check tire pressure and condition. Driving on an exposed wheel rim can cause sparks.

-Have brakes serviced regularly to prevent brake pads wearing too thin; metal on metal can spark or drop pieces of hot brake pad.

-Not fly drones around wildfires.

-Check for daily updates on burn restrictions at 800-323-BURN or on the Fire Danger and Outdoor Burning risk map at fortress.wa.gov/dnr/protection/firedanger/ and Industrial Fire Precaution Levels map at dnr.wa.gov/ifpl.

-Report illegal campfires, smoke and wildfires by calling 911.

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