Summer's burning issue
As the mercury climbs, so does the risk of forest fires.
In the soggy Northwest, that's easy to forget. But as we enter our summer -- or fire season, as state officials grimly call it -- we need to remain mindful of the impact we can have on the forests and parks we visit.
It may seem too early in the year to talk about fire safety. We don't live in Colorado, after all, where forest fires are eating up thousands of acres of land and have destroyed hundreds of homes. Our land isn't that dry.
But weather alone doesn't account for all forest fires. We play our part. Officials responsible for the state parks know that.
That's why the state Department of Natural Resources will begin a season-long burn ban on all its land next week, a necessary precautionary step that could prevent a tragedy from occurring. The ban stays in effect from Sunday until Sept. 30. (Don't worry, you can still make your s'mores. Approved fire pits will stay open.)
The ban could strike some as government overreach. It limits what you can do at your campsite, and is it even really necessary, given the conditions?
After all, risks aren't running high for forest fires. Every county in the state is now at the lowest threat level possible, except for Benton County in southeastern Washington, listed at a high risk.
And the outlook for the coming months isn't all that bad. The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which anticipates and monitors forest fires throughout the state, released last week its annual predictions for the summer. In its estimation, western Washington's fire season may start two weeks later than usual.
However, low risk doesn't mean no risk, and a late start doesn't mean fires won't begin.
People ignite 85 percent of the state's wildfires, according to the DNR. So far this year, the state has had at least 35 wildfires that have escaped from outdoor burn piles, charring 434 acres.
That number will climb as more campers head outdoors. Many people already are mapping out their plans for the summer. Those plans need to take fire safety into account.
Before leaving home, check to see if fire restrictions are in place by calling 800-323-2876 or visiting the DNR's burn risk page. (http://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/firedanger/BurnRisk.aspx) Then, once at camp, use basic precautions: clear away nearby vegetation, watch the campfire at all times, and extinguish it when you're done.
Those four things are all you need to do to help keep a warm summer from getting downright fiery.