It’s wildfire season in Washington state, and so far it’s been a record-breaker.
According to a report by KIRO, Washington had 731 brush fires as of mid-July — including 200 in western Washington — though far fewer acres of woodlands have been destroyed than last year when the region went through a record-setting 56-day streak without measurable precipitation.
It has been a fairly typical fire season for local fire departments, though the area made headlines last week when the Werner Fire broke out at the Bremerton watershed. The fire grew to 4.3 acres in size but fortunately never reached the water supply, which would have affected the drinking water for a number of county residents.
South Kitsap Fire and Rescue deputy chief Guy Dalrymple said his department has responded to approximately 30 fires in the past 30 days as of July 23.
“It’s been busy, but it hasn’t been crazy,” Dalrymple said.
Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue has responded to 61 fires involving brush, grass, woodlands or wildland in 2018, according to spokesperson Ileana LiMarzi.
In North Kitsap, where things tend to be a little slower, North Kitsap Fire & Rescue has responded to nine brush fires between May 15 and July 23, spokesperson Michele Laboda said. Last year during that same time period, there were nine; in 2016 there were 13; and in 2015, 32, Laboda said.
Because 80 percent of wildfires are caused by humans, according to Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz in the KIRO report, local fire departments continue to work to educate the public on how to prevent the fires.
Dalrymple said South Kitsap had a rash of fires earlier this summer in which residents were legally burning yard debris, but through either negligence or unfortunate circumstances, the flames quickly spread and firefighters had to be called in to extinguish them.
“It’s usually a combination of wind and lack of attention, or they step away for a fire,” Dalrymple said. “Someone has their burn pile going, they get distracted, they walk away, and if the wind is blowing, it blows up. That starts burning and then the wind continues to fan the flame.”
“If you’re doing anything with fire outside, you need to have an extinguishing agent close by,” Dalrymple added.
During these dry conditions, it can be rather easy to spark a fire. An act as simple as throwing a cigarette butt out the window or even just parking a car on dry grass can ignite flames as the hot underside of the car comes into contact with the grass.
With nothing but dry, sunny weather and hot temperatures forecasted over the next two weeks, any small fire has the potential to quickly develop into a larger one. For that reason, Laboda asked that residents quickly report any fires so that firefighters can respond and contain them as fast as possible.
“When fire officials assess fire danger, the incidence of brush fires is only one of the metrics that are considered,” Laboda said. “Long-range weather forecasts are taken into consideration as are the moisture readings in local vegetation. These two elements help officials determine the potential for dangerous and rapid spread of a fire once it gets started.”
A phase one burn ban is currently in place in Kitsap County. The ban prohibits backyard burning and land clearing. All burning permits are suspended for the duration of the ban. Recreational fires are still allowed but must be less than three feet in size and contained to a designated firepit using only charcoal or dry firewood.