Military News

Monday, July 06, 2015

Dry weather sparks severe fire danger across Inland Northwest

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

6/30/2015 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Wildfires cost an average of more than $3 billion nationwide every year and far outweigh the cost of a 50-cent firework over the Fourth of July weekend, with more than 100,000 wildfires burning an average of four to five million acres of land nationwide each year and up to nine million acres in recent years.

There are three conditions required for a wildfire to burn - fuel, oxygen and a heat source. Lightning, hot winds, fireworks and even the sun can all provide sufficient heat to spark a fire, but most are the result of human factors.

"A few weeks ago we responded to a small brush fire started by some kids playing with matches," said Master Sgt. Andres Steevens, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron assistant fire chief, who then explained education is the biggest way Team Fairchild can play a part. "We're hosting a fire prevention camp this week primarily for the kids, but the intent is that these kids' parents have a two-way conversation with their kids so everyone understands how they play a part in fire prevention."

Fireworks, exploding targets and other pyrotechnic devices are prohibited in all national forests in Oregon and Washington, banned on Fairchild Air Force Base and Clear Lake Resort, and in these Spokane County, Washington, cities: Spokane, Spokane Valley, Millwood, Cheney and Liberty Lake year-round, regardless of weather conditions or holidays.

Increased local restrictions following a burn ban issued by Spokane County will remain in effect until further notice for any unauthorized open burning, recreational fires and fireworks in Airway Heights and on all Washington Department of Natural Resources lands and regions east of the Cascade Mountains. Call the DNR burning hotline at 1-(800) 323-2876 for more information.

Deer Park employs specific date and time restrictions for the Fourth of July weekend, July 1 to 4, allowing fireworks from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call the Spokane County Fire District 4 in Deer Park at (509) 467-4500. Medical Lake will also allow fireworks from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. only on July 4. The Medical Lake Fire Department cautions users of the risks associated with fireworks, especially during current drought conditions. Call the Medical Lake Fire Department at (509) 565-5022 for more information.

Steevens says it's up to each individual to prevent fires no matter where they are.

"We can have fun without being the cause of a thousand-acre fire," he said.

The National Weather Service in Spokane issued a Red Flag Warning Monday, June 29, citing that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly due to a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures with the potential for thunderstorms including abundant dry lightning.

"While all of us enjoy fireworks during the summer holidays, federal law prohibits their use on the National Forests," said Laura Jo West, the Colville National Forest supervisor in a news release dated June 24. "Fireworks represent a real threat to our forests especially with the hot, dry weather we have been experiencing."

West explained that the penalties for violating any fire restrictions is punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment of not more than six months, or both. The U.S. Forest Service and Spokane County request forest and park visitors in areas approved for fires to ensure all fires are extinguished and cold to the touch before leaving them.

Inversely, according to a news release dated June 26, campfires are banned in all Washington state parks until further notice due to a Fire Ban Level 4 - EXTREME. Charcoal or wood fires are not allowed and, as a further precaution, gas and propane may be used for cook stoves only. The ban is part of a statewide effort to prevent human-caused wildfires. This ban includes camping and other forms of recreation at Riverside State Park such as the Bowl and Pitcher Campground in Spokane.

"As we celebrate our nation's independence this weekend, the Fairchild Fire Department asks you keep two things in mind," said Steevens. "First, local firework ordinances for specific cities can be found at most city halls across the nation. Second, our first responders and our brothers across the Pacific Northwest have been working tirelessly to control several wildland fires affecting our area."

"Please celebrate responsibly and help us educate our neighbors," he added.

If you see a fire, report it immediately by calling 9-1-1. Steevens said the quicker they know of an incident, the faster they can put the fire out.

"Fires don't just take a toll on the forests, but the first responders as well. Spend five minutes with any of the first responders after battling a wildland fire and you'll understand how important fire prevention really is."

According to Air Mobility Command's safety office, more than 8,000 people are injured by fireworks and grill fires each summer, and more than half of these injuries occur during the first week of July. Unfortunately, people aren't the only victims, Steevens said.

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