The fear of limited resources in the hottest, driest season in memory was realized this week by East Pierce Fire & Rescue crews.
Two house fires, a brush fire and several spot fires started by embers in the wind taxed crews Thursday and highlighted a continued problem many agencies face.
Several agencies have expressed concern about whether enough manpower and rigs exist to keep on top of brush fires that continue to break out across the region.
The fear has been enough to keep some agencies from sending as many firefighters to assist on bigger fires in Eastern Washington, as has been the habit in past years.
On Friday, the state Department of Natural Resources warned that dry conditions and hot weather had boosted the chances of large wildfires through the middle of next week.
“The dry fuel, record temperatures, high winds and lightning rolling in from the south present explosive potential for wildfire throughout the state,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said.
“This is a critical fire-weather pattern, notorious for producing large fires with extreme fire behavior.”
Also Friday, Pierce County was one of 21 counties under a “red flag” warning, which the National Weather Service issues to alert firefighting and land management agencies that conditions pose a heightened danger of wildfire.
On Thursday, East Pierce, which covers roughly seven communities spread across 151 square miles, had 22 firefighters on duty when the first blaze was reported about 2:40 p.m.
“We need 15 firefighters for a structure fire,” Fire Chief Bud Backer said in a statement. “We were short before the grass fire even started.”
Crews first responded to a fire in the 20300 block of 29th Street Court East on Lake Tapps, where a two-story house was burning.
Flames were quickly doused before the blaze spread inside the home. Within 15 minutes, firefighters were summoned to a garage fire in Edgewood, which is on the other side of the district.
That fire destroyed three classic cars housed in the 10-car garage and damaged two others parked outside.
The flames spread to a shelter for three goats and a pig, all of which safely escaped on their own.
Investigators believe aerosol cans stored in the structure probably started the blaze and accounted for explosions that were heard. The resident initially believed the noise came from shotgun shells inside the garage.
Although the fire melted vinyl on the side of the house, crews were able to put it out before serious damage was done to the home. Damages were estimated at more than $100,000.
That fire spread to a nearby pasture and ignited several spot fires in neighbor yards.
“We typically don’t see structure fires cause spot fires in this area,” Backer said. “But because of the conditions, this is now something that we need to consider when fighting fires.”
He said the department will have to start sending an additional rig to fires during hot weather.
Next was a grass fire reported about 4:30 p.m. in the median on state Route 167 near Jovita Boulevard that required assistance from South King Fire & Rescue and Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.
Flames were contained within the median but caused traffic backups.
“The two structure fires at opposite ends of the fire district put a tremendous strain on East Pierce resources,” the chief said.
Off-duty firefighters were called to respond to other 911 calls while on-duty crews focused on the blazes.
Several firefighters were treated for heat and dehydration but did not need to go to the hospital. No other injuries were reported.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653