July 23, 2001
Dry conditions put area under fire risk
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
In 1902 a slash and burn fire blazed wildly out of control. The fire was intended as an ecologically harmonious method of cultivation in rural Clark County northeast of Vancouver, Wash.
But with a relatively dry warm summer and an east wind whipping up the flames, the fire blew recklessly, spreading east and west while consuming 239,000 acres.
"It darkened the skies on a sunny day in both Portland and in Seattle," said Ted Buehner, meteorologist in charge of warning coordination at the National Weather Service. Recorded in history as the Yacolt Fire, Buehner hopes it serves as a lesson for today.
"The point is," he said, "things can happen and happen again."
This past winter was the second driest winter on record in the Puget Sound area. Although the rainfall in the spring and summer has been at normal levels, aquifers and stream flows remain low.
"Our conditions here in western Washington are as dire as they have been in the last 100 years," said Buehner. If warm and dry weather conditions continue to occupy the summer days ahead, he said the Woodinville-Duvall area could be at risk for a wild land fire. An east wind added to sparks from a chain saw, a cigarette butt or an unattended campfire would be all the requirements needed to spur the sparks into a frenzy of raging flames reducing everything in its path to ashes.
East winds, said Buehner, are typical in late summer. Coming from eastern Washington, the winds gust through the Cascade passes. Recalling the devastating fire that destroyed neighborhoods in Oakland, Calif. in the early 90s, Buehner said, "We don't want an Oakland Hills fire event here." He said that the few homes that remained standing after the Oakland fire were homes where the owners had taken measures to build a survivable space.
Firefighter Jeff Smith of Woodinville Fire and Life Safety said that Woodinville has already come close to having a situation of out of control fires this summer. Said Smith, "There certainly has been the potential of fires getting out of control. Typically, it has involved people who have been doing illegal burning."
He went on to say that there's a limited amount of water in the ground even with the recent rainfall this month. "We don't have the dampness in the soils we're used to on the west side [of the state]," he said and added that with the dry conditions, it would only take a couple of days for the ground to dry out after a rain. Smith recommends that people execute safety measures to protect their homes in the event of a wild land fire. Some safety measures that will help maintain a survivable space and reduce the rapid spread of fire include:
€ Clean roof surfaces and gutters of pine needles, leaves, branches, etc. regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.
€ Remove portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney.
€ Landscape vegetation should be spaced so that fire can't be carried to the structure or surrounding vegetation.
€ All combustibles such as firewood, picnic tables, boats, etc. should be kept away from structures.
€ Store gasoline in an approved safety can away from the occupied building.
€ Dispose of stove or fireplace ashes and charcoal briquettes only after soaking them in a metal pail of water.
€ Garden hoses should be connected to outlet.
€ Have fire tools on hand, such as a ladder long enough to reach the roof, shovel, rake, and bucket for water.
€ Each home should have at least two different entrance and exit routes.
For further information, visit www.firewise.org.