Fire, fireworks bans and restrictions hit Inland Northwest

Fire, fireworks bans and restrictions hit Inland Northwest

As eastern Washington continues to dry out heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a slew of fire – and fireworks – bans have gone into place across the region.

Earlier this week the Department of Natural Resources instituted a burn ban on DNR lands across eastern Washington effective Saturday and will remain in effect until Sept. 30.

The ban applies to all state forests, state parks and forest lands under DNR protections from the Cascades east to the Idaho state line. The ban for opening burning includes the use of all manner of incendiary devices such as fireworks, exploding targets, sky lanterns and tracer ammunition. Fires involving gas stoves or charcoal briquettes are authorized in designate fire pits within state, county, municipal and other campgrounds.

The reason for the ban is pretty simple: To prevent human-caused wildfires.

“Given the enormity of the last two fire seasons, it’s appropriate to be cautious,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.  “This burn ban will help protect people, forests and property.”

The last two fire seasons were catastrophic for eastern Washington. The Carlton Complex burned more than 250,000 acres in 2014, the largest single wildfire in state history, while more than a million acres burned across the state in 2015, making that the single worst wildfire year in state history.

So far this year there have been 234 wildfires across the state and 202 of them were human-caused.

Additionally, DNR raised the fire danger rating from moderate to high in Spokane County, Lincoln County north of State Highway 2 and in Stevens County fire districts 1 and 2. The fire danger remains moderate in Okanogan, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties as well as outside fire districts 1 and 2 in Stevens County.

The DNR ban doesn’t cover federal lands such as national parks and recreation areas, so managers of those areas are taking the initiative to set burning policies. Such is the case at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, where the superintendent has set a fire closure on all lands with the exception of campfires in park-provided fire grates, propane cook stoves and lanterns.

Lake Roosevelt has a standing ban on the use of fireworks within the recreation area at all times.

Just north of the Grand Coulee Dam lies the Colville Confederated Tribes reservation, where that community has taken what some might think is an unprecedented step to ban fireworks from being sold or used on tribal lands.

While 11 fireworks vendors on the reservation were upset about the sales ban, local communities were supportive of the ban, especially after last year’s fire season. In 2015 the Tunk Block and North Star fires burned more than 250,000 acres combined, with a fire perimeter of 600 miles.

Those fires burned millions of dollars worth of lumber, severely impacting the tribe’s economy.

Closer to home, local communities have enacted their own regulations on a case-by-case regarding fireworks usage. In Spokane County, for example, personal fireworks use is banned in Cheney, Liberty Lake, Millwood, Spokane and Spokane Valley, and are allowed for restricted use in Medical Lake, Deer Park and Airway Heights. They are also banned in unincorporated Spokane County.

A complete list compiled by the Washington State Patrol, listing all of the bans and restrictions for fireworks use is available in a downloadable PDF.

In Spokane, where fireworks have been illegal for 24 years, possession or use of fireworks results in fines of up to $1,000 for each violation, not including fines and court costs. If a fire starts as a results of fireworks use, a person would also be held financially responsible for property damage as well as fire department response costs.

The numbers show the impact of fireworks use in Spokane both before and after the ban went into effect. In the ten years prior to the ban going into effect fire crews on average responded to 104 fireworks-caused fires between June 28 and July 6. Since the ban went into effect, the number of fireworks-related calls has dropped to five.

Violations of the fireworks ban in the Spokane area can be reported to Crime Check at 456-2233.