Fire risk season
is earlier than usual: It’s now
SNOHOMISH — A ban on outdoor burning set June 9 across Snohomish County portends a dangerous wildfire season, fire department officials say.
“This is early for a phase one (ban),” said Mike Messer, assistant chief at Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue. “It’s super dry. Last year it didn’t dry out until after July Fourth.”
Late last summer saw the infamous Bolt Creek Fire that fouled Puget Sound air for most of September and caused evacuations in several small towns.
Now conditions are ripe for an encore, which makes following burn ban regulations especially imperative.
“The Bolt Creek Fire is a perfect example of why the burn ban was put in place,” said Peter Mongillo, public information officer for Snohomish Regional Fire.*
Like most wildfires — almost 90 percent — the Bolt Creek blaze was ignited by humans.
Its exact cause has not been determined, but common examples of human culpability include discarded smoking materials, unattended campfires, and failure to follow burn-ban guidelines.
People need to better understand the relationship between fire behavior and weather, said Craig Heike, a battalion chief at Snohomish Fire District 4.
“The weather right now is terrible for burning,” Heike said. “It’s been dry for a long time, and the wind is picking up. If a fire does get away, it’s going to spread rapidly.”
The current restriction prohibits all outdoor burning except for recreational and cooking fires “until there has been a sustained period of rainfall and the fire risk returns to low.”
It also suspends all previously issued outdoor burn permits.
If you do light a fire, officials urge “great caution” as wildfires are a “significant threat across the region.”
Should conditions worsen, the National Weather Service could issue a red flag warning that would ban all types of outdoor burning until further notice.
Red flag warnings indicate extreme fire danger with a high chance of a blaze spreading quickly. Parts of Michigan and the northeastern U.S. were under such warnings last week due to bordering Canadian wildfires.
Messer said if people follow burn-ban regulations and act as good neighbors they can dramatically lower chances of sparking a wildfire — and spare fire departments a lot of headaches.
“Our biggest issue is really just neighbor disputes,” he said. “Neighbor one has a campfire, and neighbor two doesn’t like it.”
Nine times out of ten, educating both sides resolves the issue. It’s “incredibly rare,” Messer said, to encounter burners who flout regulations.
Each fire district has its own rules regarding burn permits.
Snohomish Fire and Regional, which includes Monroe, charges $25 for a residential burning permit. Snohomish Fire District 4, servicing the city of Snohomish, has no permit charge.
Residential burning consists of natural-vegetation fires not larger than 4-feet by 3-feet high for the purpose of disposing non-commercial yard waste. These fires are allowed outside city limits.
Recreational burning typically consists of campfires and cooking fires and does not require a permit.
Due to abutting jurisdictions, most residents don’t know which fire district they live in, said Mongillo. They can enter their address at a link at www.srfr.org on the ‘About Us’ section to find out.
Information about any wildfires burning in the state can be found at https://
For those who do burn, the paramount directive is following the guidelines and rules of the permit.
Said District 4’s Heike: “This definitely is an educational opportunity.”
Fire safety tips and fire regulations
On recreational fires (fire pits, campfires, grills):
• Keep fires in a clear space and away from buildings, fences, and dry vegetation.
• Have a water source nearby. 5-gallon bucket or hose.
• Never leave a fire unattended.
• Use a spark arrestor when available (wire mesh screen with commercial fire pits).
• Put the fire out when you are done.
• Follow phase 2 burn bans and red flag days. These are issued for exceptionally dry conditions, low humidity, and high winds where fires can be very dangerous.
• Be a good neighbor! Smoke from your fire may affect neighbors with breathing problems.
On residential burning:
• A phase 1 burn ban will remain in place until we receive sufficient rain to increase soil and vegetation moisture levels. This cancels all residential burn permits. (By policy, Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue does not allow residential burning from July 1-Aug. 31 each year.)
• Residential burning must be permitted by the local fire district and can only be done by residential customers, on their own land, in the unincorporated areas of the county.
• Residential burn permit holders must follow general conditions and permits can be revoked at any time by the fire authority for violation of general conditions.
On wildland fire awareness and safety:
• Create and maintain defensible space around your home.
• Remove dead and dry vegetation.
• Use non-combustible building materials whenever possible.
• Maintain access for first responders. Can a fire truck or ambulance get to your home?
• When enjoying the outdoors follow the same rules as for recreational fires above.
— Source: Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue
* - June 16, 2023 update: This story has been updated online to reflect Peter Mongillo is with Snohomish Regional.
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