Issaquah area experiences uptick in brush fires despite wetter weather

July 19, 2011

By David Hayes

Just through observation, it’s easy to see the Issaquah area has received more rain in 2011 than its usual amount.

Defensible space practices

To help protect your home, Eastside Fire & Rescue officials recommend following these suggestions:

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation and remove vines from walls of the home, and remove rubbish from around the structure.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground. Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and barbecues.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and other flammable materials at an appropriate site.
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days, and then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans and put the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 50 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet. Use only UL-approved wood burning devices.
  • Create a 30-foot safety zone around your home. Keep the volume of vegetation in this zone to a minimum. The greater the distance between your home and vegetation, the greater the protection.
  • Remove debris on rooftops, in gutters, and under sun decks and porches.
  • Enclose eaves and overhangs. Like porches and balconies, eaves trap the heat rising along the exterior siding. Enclose all eaves to reduce the hazard.

What may have gone unnoticed by locals, however, is an unexpected uptick in brush fires. Fire officials want to ensure residents remain vigilant throughout the summer, despite the rain statistics.

“This year, we are experiencing cooler, wetter conditions, but these conditions can still pose a risk and potential concern in many of our neighborhoods and communities,” said Josie Williams, Eastside Fire & Rescue public information officer.

Last year, Issaquah received 21.11 inches of rain through July 14, according to National Weather Service statistics. This year, that number is up to 22.32 inches.

However, after a recent weekend when there were three brush fires, Williams looked up EFR’s records and found something interesting — in the two-week period July 1-14, there were 25 brush fires in 2010 and despite the additional 1 1/4 inches of rain, there have been 28 brush fires in 2011.

Williams said the fires have mostly been small blazes along highways, roadways, neighborhood greenbelts and park settings. Additionally, because damage has been kept to a minimum, she cannot say what the cause was in most cases.

“An investigator isn’t even called in unless damage is more than $10,000,” she said.

However, she said as school is released for the summer, EFR sees an increase in brush fires, indicating the likely culprits are unsupervised children.

“I also find disturbing that I’m still hearing fireworks going off,” Williams said. “Too many people are probably thinking, ‘It’s been wet. It’s no big deal.’”

She said the big deal is it is illegal to set off fireworks, even in unincorporated areas, after July 4. Also, it was fireworks that led to a big scare for Carnation in 2003. Fireworks set a conflagration on a ridge above several neighborhoods that left EFR nearly calling for state mobilization before the blaze was finally contained with minimal damage.

In the wake of the increased fire activity, Williams said it is the perfect time for homeowners to re-examine their properties for any actions they can take to reduce the risk of fire damage.

Homeowners can take simple steps, like stacking wood away from the house, trimming low-hanging branches and reroofing using composite shingles versus the more flammable shake material.

Finally, Williams said people should consider developing a community wildfire protection plan with their neighbors. Learn more at www.kingcounty.gov/environment/waterandland/forestry/forestfire.aspx or www.firewise.org.

David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237; dhayes@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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