Saturday, May 18, 2024


Wildfire Prevention


Common sense isn’t common, negligence is all too often prolific and these two factors combine to create wildfires in our forests and across our landscapes every year. According to the National Park Service, 85 percent of wild fires are human caused. Here are some of the common ways these forest fires start.

LEAVING CAMPFIRES UNATTENDED OR ABANDONED: Robin DeMario, a PublicAffairs Specialist with the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest, has said many times over the years that this is a very common cause of forest fires and their personnel routinely come across abandoned campfires either smoldering or burning.

I witnessed this first hand a few years ago at Camano Island State Park. The family camping next to us packed to leave and told us they had some extra firewood at their campsite if we wanted it. I thanked them and a short time after they drove off towards home, I went to their campsite to find they had left their campfire burning merrily away, having made no effort to put it out at all. I was dumbfounded at their decision making but it made me realize Robin was right about this.

Many times, campers will pour water over a campfire and leave thinking it is out. However, you need to truly drown that fire out. First pour water on the fire, stir it with a stick, pour more water on it, and don’t leave until the embers are cold to the touch.

TOSSED CIGARETTES: If you have ever seen a wildfire start next to a road there is a good chance someone discarded a burning cigarette from their vehicle which started that fire. That’s why there is a very steep fine if a law enforcement officer sees you discarding a lit cigarette from your vehicle to the tune of $1025 or more.

PARKING A RUNNING VEHICLE IN DRY GRASS: Another reason fires start near roadways is because motorists will pull off the side of a road, or drive off-road and park their running vehicle in high, dry grass or weeds. The grass can catch fire in a hurry, not only burning neighboring grasslands but also the vehicle itself in some cases. This is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and therefore, a lot of people don’t even think about the cause and effect of a hot engine in contact with dry grass on a warm summer day.

LOOSE CHAINS OR METAL DRAGGING FROM VEHICLES: Yet another cause of roadside fire starts are chains or other metal objects being dragged along the roadway by moving cars or trucks. Using the analogy of a flint or magnesium fire starter, if you produce enough sparks, you will eventually start a fire and unfortunately, this holds true for the sparks generated by metal objects dragged along our highways.

FIREWORKS: This one is a no-brainer but state and federal land managers haven’t been able to rely on common sense and instead have to issue fireworks bans and publicize them every summer because of the obvious danger exploding and sparking fireworks produce.

BURNPILES: Counties commonly implement burn bans during the summer but some people still attempt to burn debris whether it be orchard wood or household items on their property. Even when it is legal to have these fires, they have to be attended to constantly, have water or other means to put the fire out and kept at a level where they can be controlled.

STARTING A FIRE ON A WINDY DAY: When it comes to controlled burns or campfires,

both can quickly get out of hand if they are lit during windy conditions. I vividly remember the Castlerock Fire in Wenatchee back in September 1992 that burned 30 residences down in just a few hours. The fire was started by several teenagers lighting a campfire on a hill behind Castlerock Avenue on a very windy day. The campfire got out of control and in no time at all, the devastating flames raced to nearby neighborhoods and the roofs of several homes, several of them with cedar-shake roofs, were on fire.

ARSON: Last but not least, it is a known fact arsonists are also responsible for wildfires and they can be difficult to catch. This is where you as an observant person can play a key role. If you see someone starting a fire or a vehicle leaving an area where a fire is starting, call 911 and give them a good description of the individual, the vehicle and if possible, a license plate. That call can go a long way towards stopping this person from starting future fires.

John Kruse – and


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