Thursday, June 15, 2017

Burn Season and No Burn Season

Stay safe this summer!

Back home in the Okanogan Highlands, we typically enter our seasonal Burn Ban between June 1 and June 30th each year.  (I'm writing this post just before our Montana trip, so I'm just guessing on this year's date.) 

The wet spring has been wonderful for us, overwhelming for some neighbors' culverts.  Yet summer's warm winds and intense sunshine will dry that lush grass out quicker than you think.

If you notice windy and sunny days starting to increase, consider ways to reduce fuel loads, or chop down easily-dried-out fuels like dry grass and pine branches to make a moisture-retaining mulch.

Ernie and his dad ran a burn pile this spring, for the first time in several years.
("We've had these dry springs" says Ron, "it's raining and too wet for anything to burn, and then it's too dry [and dangerous] to burn.")

It's amazing how fast pine needles will burn.  They are called "one-hour fuels" for a reason - it takes an hour or less, sometimes only minutes, for them to dry out in the sun.
We had very heavy rains earlier this week, then hauled wet brush out to the close-cropped part of the meadow near the pond.  This set of branches had been sitting in the sunshine, on green grass, for ... not even an hour.  It didn't even wait for the fire's heat to dry it out - flames popped up like there was turpentine in there.


As a tool-using fire ape, you are accustomed to riding around in literal chariots of fire.  (internal combustion powered vehicles).  Some of you probably breathe fire (smoke) on a regular basis.

It's easy to forget the power we hold, to cause or prevent fires.

But we also have phenomenal ability to communicate, in detail, and that gives us access to a wealth of expertise that other animals have to learn by instinct.  We can learn from others' experience without repeating the tragic consequences.
Places to get good information about the state of the weather, fire danger, and burn bans and Industrial Precautions:

What are Burn Bans?
Fire is fun and useful, but not always safe.  When seasonal conditions turn dry, windy, and fire-prone, fire-fighting and land management agencies may issue a partial or total "Burn Ban."  This may mean no fire works, no wood-fired smoker or barbecue, sing-alongs but no a campfire, and no more burn piles to dispose of yard or agricultural wastes.
Other times, fires may be restricted to designated (supervised or wetter-area) campgrounds, certain times of day, or certain areas in a larger park or landscape.

Find burn bans
State of Washington, here:
Anywhere in the USA, try this site:

What are Industrial Precautions?
Equipment with combustion engines, electrical discharges, or even just steel blades striking rocks can start a fire in dry conditions. Industrial Precautions tell you when it's legal to operate equipment in the woods (like chain saws, track hoes, harvesters, etc). Sometimes industrial forestry activities are fine in the morning (cooler hours) but not afternoons.

State of Washington:
For other local areas: regarding woodcutting in national forests: search the forest service site using your specific forest by name + "IFPL":
Or go to your local ranger station or forest service office.
(If you already know your geographic zone number, you can use a touch-tone phone to get Industrial Precaution updates: 1-800-527-3305.)

Why do I care?
Track current wildland fires here:

Sure, I'm a tree hugger.
I'd rather noodle around taking photos of wild flowers than drag hose through the smoke and ashes where they used to be.

My first year in training as a fire fighter, I made this T-shirt design to sum up most of the ways I heard of fires starting. 

(This does not include the trailer dragging chains that made sparks that caused multiple fires, or mysterious roadside fires well outside the range most people can flick a cigarette butt, or many of the other things that happened.  There were thousands of fire reports in our wild Highlands that year.

Maybe a third to a half were 'natural causes' - we had a lot of dry lightning that summer.  So rather than include more categories of human error, I felt it was only fair to mention the Excessive Smiting there at the end.)

If you would wear this T-shirt, or order a few to hang on the wall in your camp store / fire hall / school info center, please let me know!  (You are welcome to print a copy of this design and pin it somewhere to see what kind of responses you get.)

If you're interested, email, or leave a message at 509-556-2054.  The prices will depend on how many we order at once.  Realistically we are looking at printing them mid-summer, not before the end of June.

Here's to a great summer! Green and gold, pleasant, breathable, with distant purple mountains visible all day and clear starry night skies.
And every time we hear thunder, showers of pouring rain.  :-)

Erica Wisner