One of the wettest Junes on record has now dried out, causing a bit of nail-biting for firefighters on this fireworks-filled weekend.
The fire danger officially increased from moderate to high Thursday in Washington’s Spokane, Lincoln, Okanogan and southern Stevens counties, and from low to moderate in Pend Oreille County and across most of North Idaho. The fire danger remained low in Ferry County and moderate in central and northern Stevens County. Portions of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest continue to be at low risk for fire, but the heat is ratcheting up the risk each day.
“The way it’s going, we’ll probably be up in high fire danger pretty soon,” said Shawn Pierson, assistant fire management officer for the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District.
Much of the Coeur d’Alene area is high risk. Tubbs Hill is considered very high risk, said Glenn Lauper, a city fire inspector.
Coeur d’Alene police will conduct special emphasis patrols in the forested city park in coming days to enforce a strict no-fireworks policy, according to a statement issued by the police department.
The portion of Stevens County in which the fire danger rose to high is the 378-square-mile territory of Fire District 1. The district serves the area from Deer Lake south to the Spokane and Lincoln county lines.
Fire danger ratings affect a patchwork quilt of burning regulations involving federal, state and local agencies.
Steve Harris, regional fire prevention coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said open burning is effectively banned on property protected by DNR fire crews. That generally includes private and state timberland, but not agricultural or developed properties.
DNR burning permits typically allow no burning when the fire danger is high, Harris said.
So-called “rule burns” – small fires that require no permits as long as required precautions are observed – now are banned on DNR-protected land in Spokane, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties, and in the portion of Lincoln County north of State Route 2.
Washington Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland issued a statewide warning Thursday that fireworks are prohibited on DNR-protected land. Sutherland urged special care with campfires, vehicle mufflers and cigarettes to prevent fires during the Fourth of July weekend.
Also Thursday, Stevens County officials imposed burning restrictions until further notice on land not regulated by the DNR or the Forest Service. Fire Marshal Dave Jones issued an order banning outdoor fires not contained in an incinerator, outdoor fireplace, barbecue grill or a barbecue pit with no more than a 3-foot diameter.
Meanwhile, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste authorized state assistance Thursday in fighting the Rocky Ford wildfire in Grant County, about four miles northwest of Moses Lake. The fire had burned an estimated 5,000 acres and threatened seven homes, an electricity substation and transmission line, and a fish hatchery.
Batiste said a team of managers and a dozen firetrucks would be sent from Spokane, Chelan and Douglas counties.
Gail West, spokeswoman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, said 17 fires have already been reported this season in North Idaho, but the total acreage burned has been less than 25 acres.