By Marcy Stamper and Ann McCreary
With consistently hot, dry weather, in the past week firefighters have responded to several wildland fires that threatened homes and spread to dry vegetation.
A brush fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon (July 24) just east of the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 153 threatened a home on the hillside above Highway 20. The fire was reported between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m., and firefighters had the 3-acre blaze contained and were mopping up shortly after 3 p.m.
Highway 20 was temporarily closed, and traffic was detoured to Lower Beaver Creek Road. Several agencies responded to the fire, including Okanogan County Fire District 6, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Forest Service and Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department.
On Sunday (July 22), Twisp, Winthrop and Carlton stations from Fire District 6 responded to a grass fire on the Twisp-Carlton Road. Firefighters from DNR and the Forest Service assisted to keep the fire at just over 2 acres, according to District 6. The cause is under investigation.
On July 18, District 6, DNR and Forest Service responded to a wildland fire near Bear Creek and Springboard Lane, south of the Bear Creek Golf Course. District 6 said the fire was limited to about 5 acres.
The more than 700 fires around the state this summer are a record for this early in the season, according to DNR. A fire near Vantage that closed Interstate 90 last week is the largest thus far, at more than 70,000 acres.
DNR has kept most of these fires small by positioning helicopters in high-risk areas and using real-time data, according to the agency.
‘Extreme’ fire danger
As of last Friday (July 20), DNR increased the fire-danger rating in Okanogan County to “very high/extreme.” All outdoor burning in Okanogan County and on public and private lands protected by DNR is prohibited. Under the ban, agricultural burning and outdoor burning of yard waste are prohibited. The use of gas- or charcoal-fired barbecues is allowed.
All campfires are banned in the Methow Valley Ranger District and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest except in designated campgrounds, where there are amenities such as metal fire rings. Charcoal briquettes are also prohibited. Pressurized liquid-gas cooking stoves are permitted.
Escaped campfires are the leading cause of human-caused wildland fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Firefighters extinguish one or two abandoned campfires almost every weekend, according to the Forest Service.
At Pearrygin Lake State Park, wood fires are restricted to designated fire pits. No charcoal fires are allowed. At Alta Lake State Park, both wood and charcoal fires are prohibited. Only gas and propane stoves are allowed.
Where campfires are permitted, make sure the fire is completely doused and cold to the touch.
Fireworks are prohibited throughout the county on both public and private land, and year-round in the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest. There are penalties of up to $5,000, or six months in jail, for fireworks possession in the national forest.
Okanogan County Emergency Management has an automated system to alert people about fires and floods, evacuations, and unexpected road closures and missing persons.
The system allows people to enter up to five physical addresses so they can receive timely notifications of emergencies near their home, place of work, or children’s school, for example.
Alerts are sent by text message, phone call, and/or email. This year, the alerts go to every device people provide, but don’t cycle through the list more than once. Except for entering a cell-phone number for both text messages and phone calls, don’t enter the same number for each contact (for example, home and work).
To sign up, go to the Okanogan Cunty Emergency Management website at http://okanogandem.org and click on the outline map of Okanogan County that says “Alert System.” Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall recommends that people who are already registered log in again to be sure their information is up to date.
People will need to confirm their locations on a map for the system to work.
People should create an individual account for each household member with a cell phone.
The system notifies people within a certain radius that’s set by emergency managers in consultation with first responders, depending on the risk posed by the incident, said Goodall. Because of that, people will not necessarily hear about all incidents in the area, he said.
People who want to be notified about all incidents throughout the county can text “OKCOUNTY” TO 888777. They can also text ZIP codes to that number for particular towns if they want information about incidents in those areas only. This system, known as Nixle, provides alerts by text message only.
People can view a list of all notifications on the Emergency Management web page by clicking on “County Alert Notifications.”
For assistance with the alert system, contact Okanogan County Emergency Management at (509) 422-7206.