Burning season fires up again Friday. Then, after three days, it’s doused.
But be careful. Light up the wrong stuff in the wrong place, and it won’t be the only thing going up in smoke. The other plume just might come from your pocket.
Fines for illegal burning are steep - up to $10,000 and never less than $250. And the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority works weekends.
“We do see extremes,” SCAPCA inspector Matt Holmquist said. “Everything from tires to burning insulation off of wire.”
When the season opened last weekend, there were about a dozen such fires. “Typically, we find only a few violations,” said compliance administrator Mabel Caine.
This time, SCAPCA and deputies saw everything from the stinking billows of flaming garbage to a doghouse being burned down.
The rule is: Burning is allowed only in certain places outside the city. And only natural yard waste can be burned legally. Over the years, though, people have tried it all - tires, wires, industrial trash. Even ex-pets.
Holmquist said illegally burned materials have included oil-treated railroad ties, rotten hay bales and giant wooden spools. Most often, it tends to be lumber or other wood scraps.
Dave Lobdell, assistant chief of the Spokane Valley Fire Department, remembers a particularly creative attempt at that.
“Somebody had been cutting firewood commercially,” he said. “They brought in a deck of logs; they had a tremendous quantity of sawdust. When we got there, they were standing out there with a stick and a hot dog, saying it was a cooking fire.”
It must have been a heck of a hot dog the pile of fuel was 40 feet across.
Most of those infernos occur in unincorporated areas of the county. But smaller fires in the city are reported about once a week - burning season or not.
“Usually, it’s some transients or people living up in the park in Peaceful Valley,” said Hal Williams, city fire battalion chief. “That’s probably our biggest problem.”
So, to clear up the apparent haze, here are the rules:
Only natural yard wastes such as twigs, grass clippings and leaves can be burned. And burning is allowed only outside the no-burn area from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday though Sunday.
Only one pile can be burned at a time, and it can be no more than 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet high.
Fires must be 50 feet from fences or anything else that could ignite.
Fire breaks must be made around each blaze, and water must be available nearby.
Fires must be guarded at all times.
And all this goes out the window when it’s windy. “High winds are a common denominator of our fire disasters in Spokane County,” said Lt. Doug Bleeker of Fire District 9.
“It’s not worth the risk.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Fall yard waste burning season