Don’t let it all go up in smoke

Summer starts Sunday, and spring’s unusually warm and dry weather already has us planning camping trips, hikes, picnics and more, much of it out in the forests that for most of us are less than an hour’s drive away.

Allow us a couple minutes, then, to don our bear suit, lean on a shovel, tip up the brim of our campaign hat and ask for a moment’s thought about wildfire prevention.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of the Carlton Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in Washington state history. The fire, which began July 14, burned more than 256,000 acres in north central Washington, destroyed more than 300 homes and caused property losses of $28 million. The cost of fighting Carlton and other wildfires in the state last year totaled more than $88 million.

The state Department of Natural Resources has announced a burn ban for Eastern Washington for lands under its management, including state parks and state forestlands. Expect similar burn bans at national parks and forests, and if the warm and dry weather continues in Western Washington, expect those burn bans to expand here, too.

Both the Office of the Washington State Climatologist and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington and respected weather authority, have said we can expect higher chances of above-normal temperatures and below-normal rain for Western Washington this summer. Add that to our lower-than-normal snowpack this winter, and the conditions are set for a potentially dangerous wildfire season in our half of the state.

For years, Eastern Washington homeowners, in particular those living in rural areas and near forests, have been familiar with the need to prepare their properties for wildfire season, clearing brush and other flammable materials from around their homes and other structures. It’s a practice that more in Western Washington also are having to consider. Firefighters in Gold Bar are advising area property owners to create defensible spaces to provide enough separation if wildfire approaches, as Herald Writer Rikki King reported earlier this week.

Those who don’t live near a forest but do spend time there, also have responsibilities in preventing wildfires.

Remember, only you can:

  • Take extreme caution with fireworks as we approach Fourth of July celebrations. Use fireworks only where they are permitted and in areas away from dry grass, brush and other flammable material. Have a hose or other water source handy. Better yet: Leave the fireworks displays to the professionals.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended, then extinguish it completely by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until it’s cold. And take care when using and refueling camp stoves and lanterns.
  • Never discard cigarettes or matches from moving vehicles or anywhere on the forest floor. Fully extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.
  • Be ready to call 911.
  • And abide by burn bans in forestlands and at home.

It should be a great summer. Please help keep it that way.

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