Tragedy reflects potential danger from any kind of fire

The News TribuneJuly 2, 2013 

The horrible news from Arizona that 19 members of an elite firefighting crew were killed by a fast-moving wall of flame should be a cautionary tale.

The lesson is that any fire, however it is caused, can have tragic consequences.

The Yarnell Hill wildfire — the deadliest in 80 years – reportedly was caused by lightning. But it could just as easily have been caused by an unattended campfire, a cigarette flipped out a car window, a criminal firebug or kids playing with fireworks. When potential fuel is dry, all it takes is a spark to start a fire that can turn into a deadly conflagration.

Conditions in the Southwest are especially dangerous, with temperatures in triple digits, low humidity and unpredictable winds. But Washington is by no means immune to deadly fires. The Thirtymile Fire that raged in the North Cascades killed four firefighters in July 2001, and another four died in a Seattle warehouse arson in 1995.

As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, the fire threat in most of Washington is low to moderate, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. As of Monday, only one county was at very high/extreme risk, Benton, where a firefighter died fighting a fireworks-related blaze south of Kennewick on July 4, 1992.

But fire-danger levels can change on a dime given the stretch of hot, dry weather the entire region is experiencing. Little or no rain is expected in the foreseeable future. Add fireworks to the mix — often shot off in remote areas by unsupervised youngsters — and it’s a recipe for trouble.

The state fire marshal says that 128 fires and 226 fireworks-related injuries were reported in 2012, mostly around the Fourth of July holiday. And conditions last year at this time were not nearly as hot and dry as they are now.

It’s one thing for people to risk their own safety and that of family members by shooting off explosive fireworks and rockets — which are illegal except on tribal reservation land. But are they also willing to risk the lives of those who would have to fight any fires they might cause?

By shooting off illegal fireworks, miscreants are essentially answering yes to that question. They might want to take a moment to think about that as we learn more about the 19 dead in Arizona.

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