DNR firefighter training

Firefighters work June 20 during the annual state Department of Natural Resources wild-land firefighter training near Hamilton. They have since responded to real wildfires across the state. 

As summer heats up, various bans are now in effect for land in Skagit County.

State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz issued a statewide burn ban for Tuesday through Sept. 30. It applies to 12 million acres of state-managed and private forest lands, including in Skagit County.

The state Department of Natural Resources, the leading agency for most wildfire response in Washington, has so far fought 14 fires in Skagit County in 2020, agency spokesperson Janet Pearce said.

The largest local fire burned 8 acres, Pearce said. Most recently, a quarter acre burned on Monday.

Both fires were started by people — just like 90% of wildfires ignited across the state, including from runaway campfires, uncontrolled backyard burns and sparks from motorized equipment.

“Please, public, help us prevent these fires,” Pearce said.

The Skagit County Fire Marshal’s Office has its own burn ban in place. It took effect Friday and applies to unincorporated areas in the county.

The burn bans were prompted by prolonged hot, dry weather conditions, which along with gusty winds can spread a wildfire quickly through dry grasses and forests.

The state ban means no outdoor burning or use of charcoal briquettes except for in approved fire pits within established campgrounds, and no prescribed burns unless approved for ecological reasons and overseen by professionals. The county ban means no land-clearing fires or residential yard debris burns.

The agencies urge caution when lighting any permitted recreational or cooking fires, which in county areas must be enclosed in materials such as cement or steel, no more than 3 feet wide and 2 feet high, at least 15 feet from combustible materials, overseen by someone over the age of 16 and managed with a prepared water source nearby.

“We simply cannot take any chances right now with wildfire potential so great,” Franz said in a news release. “Recent hot weather has set the stage for fires to start easily and grow quickly.”

George Geissler, deputy for Natural Resources’ wildfire division, said several large fires scorching lands in Eastern Washington have firefighting resources stretched thin.

“We hope the public will take the burn ban seriously,” Geissler said in the news release. “Not only are we putting firefighters in danger with each wildfire, but we are also risking their exposure to COVID-19 with smoky conditions and a close working environment. We want and need healthy first responders for the duration of the wildfire season.”

Wildfire season generally lasts through September. The state’s northwest region wildfire response team conducted training in June — preparing this year for added challenges, and risks, posed by COVID-19.

David Way, a Natural Resources firefighter who was incident command for the June training, is battling, presumably with other members of the agency’s Northwest Region crew, one of the large fires east of the North Cascades.

“I’ve been dispatched to Eastern Washington on a Wildfire Assignment,” Way’s email auto-reply states.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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