Fire District 16 Chief Guy Allen can’t remember the last time that conditions were this hot and dry this early in the summer.
“I can’t remember the last time we had a burn ban established in June,” Allen said. “That should be a warning to everybody that this is going to be a difficult year.”
A state-wide burn ban went into effect last week; it runs until Sept. 30. While the ban applies to state forests, parks and lands under fire protection, it’s implementation shows how dry its been in the normally rainy month of June. A state-wide drought was declared in May.
“It’s been so dry out there I can’t help but think we’re going to have some issues,” said Lt. Larry Minturn of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department peninsula detachment.
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Key Peninsula Fire and Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One are bringing in extra staff the Fourth of July shift. The Pierce County Sheriff is bringing in extra officers.
“We’re all holding our breath. We haven’t really had this dry of weather (in June),” said Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One Chief John Burgess.
Burgess said another big risk on the holiday is firework-related injuries.
The trouble with fireworks, Allen said, is once it’s airborne it presents a risk, especially if it’s an illegal firework that contains a tail or fin to guide it in flight.
“In this kind of weather... we can see fires large enough to call in other resources,” Allen said. The worry is that in a fire season, other resources such as nearby fire departments may already be stretched thin.
“I really feel for the fire departments. I’m sure they’re going to get a workout,” Minturn said.
Firework laws are difficult to enforce. Officers respond to calls as they come in and also try to spot illegal firework activity while out patrolling.
In general, departments are preparing for a tough fire season. Right now, both local departments have sent resources to Wenatchee to battle the forest fire that broke out.
“I think it’s just going to be a busy season for us,” Burgess said.
There are things peninsula residents can do to protect their houses in the dry conditions. For one thing, Allen said, cleaning dry pine needles off roofs and out of gutters can prevent a house catching fire when hit with a spark.
“It’s something that people should do every year,” Allen said.
The chief also encourages people to take this year off from celebrating with a bang.
“It’s really not safe enough,” he said.
But if you do decide to shoot off fireworks, Allen has a few suggestions. Buy legally from local stands, fire them in a wide open space, have conscious adults near by and be sure to bring along water to put out every last ember.