June 16, 2013 in Outdoors

Shooters trigger early fire restrictions

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Rich Landers photo

A helicopter hauls water to fight a fire above the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County on June 10, 2013.
(Full-size photo)

Fire danger has spiked to high in the past week in Washington prompting land managers to issue earlier than normal restrictions.

Responding to a spate of wildfires started by firearms shooters on state lands, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is restricting target shooting on the Wenas Wildlife Area to the hours between sunrise and 11 a.m. through September.

“Folks are getting out and they’re just not thinking,” said Matt Eberline, fire district manager for the Department of Natural Resources. “They’re not paying attention to their campfires, they’re shooting in bad locations, they’re driving their vehicles in the dry grass.

“We had that wet spell and everything’s still got that greenish tint and so people think the fire danger is gone. But that’s just not the case.”

Several lightning- and human-caused fires have been reported in the Umatilla National Forest and nearby areas already this month.

“We are about a month ahead of usual for fire season so preparation and awareness of the unseasonably dry conditions are key this year,” says Bret Ruby, fire staff officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Windy conditions fanned the flames Tuesday as crews battled two brush fires in Asotin County.

About 10 acres burned near Critchfield Road and Riverside Drive, 2 miles north of Asotin, before being suppressed.

Another fire near Anatone had scorched roughly 2,500 dryland acres through Thursday as it worked northeast toward the Snake River. The wildland fire started Saturday at a private residence along the Grande Ronde River before spreading to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said.

Shooting has come under more scrutiny after target shooters were pegged as the cause of a costly fire near Wenatchee last year.

Sparks caused by bullets striking metal targets have caused fires in Washington this year.

Wenas Wildlife Area manager Cindi Confer Morris said the use of exploding targets has been outlawed on state lands for more than a year, but some target shooters still haven’t gotten the word.

The website of one exploding-target manufacturer “says it doesn’t start fires, but it does,” said Jody Taylor, Wenas Wildlife Area assistant manager. State fire officials put the targets to the test two years ago, he added, and sparks from the exploding targets ignited fires.

Morris said recreationists who start wildfires — whether by target shooting or building a campfire that escapes the fire pit — are liable for the cost of not only putting out the fire, but rehabilitating the burned area.

She said a 2008 fire that burned 123 acres in the Roza Creek drainage cost a recreationist’s homeowners insurance “several hundred thousand dollars.”

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