Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a statewide emergency along with a burn ban in response to the late-June heat wave and the large fires now burning in Central and Eastern Washington along with smaller brush fires in various parts of the state, including in Skagit County.
The emergency proclamation was issued Tuesday as Skagit County Fire District No. 4, serving the Clear Lake area, returned to the largest local brush fire that began locally on the Fourth of July due to continued burning.
“We ended up having to go back (Monday) and put some more water on it because it was starting to flare up on a pretty flat face that we couldn’t get any hand tools on,” Fire Chief Ryan McDonald said. “Hopefully we don’t have to go back to it anymore.”
After the local firefighters hosed down the flare-up, the state Department of Natural Resources arrived and monitored the site overnight. McDonald said it’s the standard practice for Natural Resources, as the lead wildfire-fighting agency in Washington, to take over burns that local agencies aren’t fully equipped to control.
The trouble is that Natural Resources must juggle fires of all sizes, across all landscapes. For the about 3-acre fire in the Clear Lake area near Big Rock, that meant Natural Resources had to step away until active burning resurfaced.
“They got pulled off to go to a bigger fire,” McDonald said.
With most fire districts across Skagit County being volunteer departments and Natural Resources already having its attention divided across the state, there’s some anxiety about the ability to fight wildfires this year.
“We’re really nervous about it. All of us volunteer departments are,” McDonald said. “We’re stretched thin as it is.”
Firefighting and fire science experts have said the heat wave coupled with drought conditions created an unprecedented wildfire risk for the state this summer.
The State of Emergency proclamation acknowledges that the number of fires already seen and the potential for larger fires over the summer could stress firefighting resources quickly. That means life and property are at risk.
The proclamation states that the Washington National Guard and State Guard may be called to assist local jurisdictions and state agencies. It also institutes a statewide burn ban through Sept. 30.
“That’s probably best for now — to ban all outdoor burning across the whole state — at least until we get some precipitation,” McDonald said.
The ban defers to local jurisdictions — such as the Skagit County Fire Marshal’s Office and area cities — for firepit, barbecue and fireworks regulations. It also leaves authority over campfires to the agencies that allow camping, including State Parks.
Agricultural burning may only take place if permitted.