Navigating Fire Season
Summer forecast: hot and dry
By Colin Anderson
Summer is the best time to get out and enjoy the wonderful hiking, biking and camping spots that the Northwest is famous for. While more and more people are finding the beauty and serenity of these special places, carelessness with fire could lead to devastating consequences. The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting an above average fire season for much of the West with increased awareness for Southeastern Washington, the Cascades, Central Oregon and Northern California.
A dry spring combined with a predicted hot and dry summer could see our air quality reduced in the second half of summer, as fires even hundreds of miles away can have a great impact on the region.
While many fires are caused by lightning strikes igniting timber or grassland, the majority are in fact caused by humans. According to the United States Forest Service, most years nine out of 10 wildland fires are human caused. Sometimes it’s a blown electrical pole or other cause out of our hands, but as evidenced throughout recent history, carelessness with a campfire, running engine, fireworks or cigarette can also lead to catastrophe.
There are simple precautions to take as to not be the cause of a fire.
One of the leading causes of wildland fires is campers not properly extinguishing their campfire. If your fire is lit in a primitive site, be sure you have at least a 10-foot circumference away from any fuels that could be ignited by sparks leaving your fire ring. Keep fires small and only burn clean, dry tinder and never burn garbage that could be lifted away by the wind. If your campsite is in a designated campground, be sure to only light a fire within the fire pit or ring. A common mistake when extinguishing a fire is to just dump a bottle of water on it until the flames are out. While water is a good start, be sure to mix in dirt with a shovel and mix thoroughly. Your fire is extinguished only when you are able to place the palm of your hand on it without needing to pull back.
If you are simply going for a day hike, be conscious of where you park your car. A hot engine parked over dry grass can spark a fire, and you could lose your vehicle in the process. The same is true for off-road vehicles. Stay on designated trails, and be conscious of your surroundings.
Finally, pay attention to the current fire danger and fire restrictions of the forest you are visiting. If fires are not allowed, do not start one. When conditions are elevated to “High” or “Extreme,” not only are the chances of sparking a fire greater, but the chance for a large-scale fire greatly increases due to the conditions.
Be sure to keep an eye on the weather as well. If it’s been hot in your area and a thunderstorm rolls in, it might be time to call it a day. Fires sparked by lighting can fight through rainfall and grow quickly in the right conditions.