Unusually dry summer weather has prompted the state Department of Natural Resources to begin its annual statewide burn ban three weeks earlier than usual.
The ban on fires applies to all state forests, state parks and forest lands under DNR protection. It will run until Sept. 30.
With the exception of approved campground fire pits, the ban prohibits all outdoor burning on DNR-protected lands. Charcoal briquettes may be used only in approved campground fire pits.
Fireworks and other incendiary devices are always banned on state land.
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A previous burn ban had covered only DNR lands in Eastern Washington. The agency said it was expanding the ban into western Washington because drought and heat are rapidly increasing fire danger.
“You can just look outside at your lawn and see how dry it looks,” said Janet Pearce, DNR’s communications manager. “It’s here.”
The ban does not apply to federally owned lands including national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges or other federally administered areas, which have their own rules about fires.
Virginia Painter, communications director for the State Parks Department, said there are park rangers on hand in all of the state’s campgrounds, to make sure people are only having fires in the designated fire pits.
While there are no special plans to boost enforcement of the ban over the Fourth of July, Painter said staff will be on the lookout for violators.
"Everybody will be watching on the holiday," she said.
The DNR reports that there already have been 306 wildfire starts in 2015 throughout the state.
About 70 of those wildfires have been in western Washington, Pearce said. The closest wildfire to Olympia so far this season was near Pe Ell.
There have been a few small starts in the Capitol State Forest, and Pearce said the forest is so dry it wouldn’t be surprising to have more.
Pearce said the goal is to spread awareness, since most fires are human caused.
“If we can get people to help us out we can have a much better year,” she said.
This statewide burn ban is about three weeks ahead of schedule, but Pearce said current conditions are like those during a typical July or August.
With the current drought and rising temperatures, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark agrees.
“Westside forests are drying out and the outlook is for continued warm, dry weather,” he said in a press release. “These conditions make it clear it’s time for a statewide burn ban.”
Last year’s fire season was the biggest on record in Washington. The Carlton Complex, the largest state fire ever, destroyed more than 250,000 acres.
Live-fire training exercises under DNR direction are being scheduled. Limited controlled burning is planned for Sunday and Monday (June 28 and 29) about three miles north of Oakville in the Capitol State Forest.