Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Stay safe and fire smart during our long, hot summer

By Barbara LaBoe

This year’s hot weather and drought conditions have dramatically increased wildfire and roadside brush fires across our state. Several were burning just on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

Our Northwest and Olympic region staff has seen roughly double the amount of roadside brush fires this year compared to last – more than 100 since April 1 – and we still have most of August and September yet to come. It’s the same story across the state.

A wildfire near Roosevelt, Wash. closed State Route 14 beginning Tuesday, Aug.4.
Because of the increased risk, we’ve introduced intermittent “High Fire Danger” messages on our electronic roadside Variable Message Signs after working with the Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Fire Chiefs Association. We’ve started in the eastern part of the state, where fire danger remains extra high, but also plan to add the messages to the western side of the state. In normal years the western side of the state doesn’t have as high a fire risk – but this year is far from normal.

We’d also like to share some basic wildfire safety tips.

Our partners at the Washington State Patrol urge all drivers to be extra alert aware and use common sense this summer, especially if you’re driving in an area near an active fire.
  • Obey all detour and road closure signs and never re-enter a fire area without permission.
  • If you see a brush fire with no emergency crews around, be sure to alert authorities. Don’t assume someone else has called it in.
  • NEVER throw a cigarettes or any other flammable material out of vehicle windows. With such dry conditions, one cigarette is all it takes to spark a major fire. (It can also land you a $1,025 ticket).
  • Do your part for prevention. As we noted in a July blog, the top causes of brush fires along roads are drivers throwing lit items out windows, blown tires or malfunctions that cause sparks or driving a vehicle onto dry grass or vegetation (the heat from a car’s engine can start a fire).
  • And, as always, you can check for road conditions and closure notices by using WSDOT’s mobile app, online tools, social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, or by calling 5-1-1.
If you live in an area threatened by wildfires, the state’s Emergency Management Division and the state Department of Health recommend these tips:
  • Remain calm and listen to news and emergency reports for details of any evacuations.
  • If told to evacuate, do so calmly but quickly.
  • If you feel threatened, leave even without an evacuation order.
  • Establish an out-of-area contact for friends and family so they’ll be able to check in if you are forced to leave. (This is a good idea year-round, not just during fire season).
  • Pre-load your vehicle with emergency supplies, vital records and other valuables. Park your vehicle so it’s facing out toward the evacuation route.
  • Keep pets confined nearby so you can quickly get them into your car.
  • Post a note on your home telling emergency crews you have left and where you’re headed.
Remember, with this year’s dry conditions every part of the state is at risk for a wildfire. The state Department of Natural Resources’ wildfire preparedness website lists every county in the state as either high or very high/extreme for wildfire risk at this point. That means everyone should be extra vigilant and pay attention to news and emergency reports.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, every county
in Washington is either at high or very high/extreme fire danger.
 We want everyone to stay safe and fire smart this summer.