As we head toward summer, the warm and dry weather calls so many us outdoors to play in the sunshine or seek shade and serenity in the wilderness. That is until air quality or fire danger create risky conditions for our health and safety, a reality of recent summers in our region. While we can all hope for the wind to blow favorably or for rain to quickly squelch out wildfire flames, there are human factors we can control to prevent wildland fires and reduce danger.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the cabin fever may have gotten intense for everyone physically distancing to stop the spread. As we safely return to outdoor recreation in our backyards and public lands, the stakes are high to prevent destructive wildland fires and the toxic smoke that destroys our air quality. People with heart and respiratory conditions and now also the people with COVID-19 (diagnosed and undiagnosed) are at increased risk for poor health outcomes when exposed to smoke. We must do all we can to prevent human-caused wildland fires.
Backyard fires that get out-of-control set off most of the wildfires caused by people. You can be held responsible for the cost of putting out your out-of-control fire and any property damage it caused, which can be very costly.
If you have a recreational fire, please exercise caution:
- With more people home right now during this COVID-19 pandemic, please consider voluntarily limiting wood burning (indoors/outdoors). Breathing smoke affects the respiratory system and is especially harmful to sensitive populations including youth, seniors, and those with underlying heart and respiratory conditions.
- Ask first and mind the ban. Check with local authorities about burn bans or restrictions. In Spokane County, local fire officials restrict outdoor burning based on fire danger, which is typically July to September. Always check the Burn Ban Status before starting your fire at (509) 477-4710 or org/current-burning-conditions. Or, subscribe to receive emails of burn restrictions.
- In Spokane County, recreational fires are permitted on private property and designated areas on public lands when restrictions are not in place. Recreational fires include camp and cooking fires, backyard barbecues, Chimineas and other patio warmers that burn charcoal, natural firewood, or manufactured logs and pellets.
- Follow recreational fire guidelines. Fires should be in an in-ground pit or ring 25 feet away from any structures or combustibles. Fuel fires with firewood or charcoal. Keep fires small not tall: no larger than 3 feet wide and 2 feet high.
- Stand guard and extinguish. Have water available. A person capable of extinguishing the fire must attend it at all times, and the fire must be completely extinguished before leaving it.
- Be a good neighbor. It is always illegal to smoke out your neighbors. If there is bothersome smoke in your neighborhood, and you aren’t in a position to contact the person responsible, call 911.
Here are more ways to reduce the risk of wildfires:
- Refer to this Wildfire Prevention information from WA DNR regarding recreational land use, campfires, and home landscaping during dry conditions.
- Cigarettes should be fully extinguished and disposed of in approved ashtrays.
- Fireworks are banned in Spokane County and on Washington public lands.
- Keep matches or lighters away from children and talk to them about fire safety.
- Note: Report wildland fires by calling 911.