Safety experts: Prepare for wildfire season because it's already here

Safety experts: Prepare for wildfire season because it's already here

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. - It's the first week of June, and much of eastern Washington, including Benton County, is already at a high-fire danger rating.

Air quality specialist Tyler Thompson is with the Benton Clean Air Agency (BCAA), the organization responsible for monitoring and preserving air quality.

BCAA works closely with area fire departments to set the daily burn decision.

“We’re pretty much in charge of enforcing the rules," he said. “People need to check our website constantly and be in tune with the fire danger.”

Thompson said the high fire danger rating means outdoor burning of yard waste is forbidden in residential areas, and likely to stay that way until September.

“Once we hit [high danger], the sun comes hard and fast and it stays," he explained. "So the fire danger is always going to be high.”

He said being careful and keeping water nearby doesn't make your fire any less dangerous.

“Sometimes people are new to the area and they’re not familiar with the rules,” Thompson explained.

Benton county firefighter Tracy Baker said she moved to Tri-Cities from the Midwest, where wildfires are almost unheard of.

She said our area's terrain and dry, breezy weather is an ideal breeding-ground for wildfires, and every year careless sparks pose a real threat.

“Some of these fires are very difficult to contain,” she said. "Once they're ignited, they're hard to catch."

Baker said just last week a wildfire on East Badger Road torched 20-acres and put an entire neighborhood in danger.

She said some of the homes were safer than others, escaping with little more than a close-call.

“The houses that were [safe] had a good 30 to 50 feet of green area around their house,” Baker said.

When done correctly Baker said a well-maintained defensible space, or buffer zone, protects against wildfires.

She said the idea is to surround your home with stuff that doesn’t burn, like fire-resistant plants or gravel and clearing out the stuff that will.

“It actually made a difference," she said. "It was extremely obvious they saved their property because there were no flammable materials in which the fire could jump to their house.”

The firefighter said this year our area has already seen a few fires that got much bigger after starting out as small fires that hadn't been properly put out.

Baker said folks outside the urban growth area are still allowed to build small fires for cooking or heat.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea," she said. “It’s just so important, if you don't have to burn, please [don't]."

And never leave your fire unattended.

She said to drown the fire, mix it up, and then add more water until it's cool enough to touch.

“You really want to get your naked hand in there, and check for heat,” she said.

Baker said if you see a fire getting out of control, call 911 immediately.

“Because the sooner we can get there and get a handle on it, the better chance we have of getting it out.”

Firefighters are also asking drivers not to drive over fire-hoses, especially when they're being used at a fire.

Baker said every time it happens, they have to completely take the hose out of service because it becomes a safety hazard.

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