Dry weather, grass fires lead to burn ban in Whatcom County

Posted by CALEB HUTTON on February 7, 2014 

An unusual series of at least five grass fires in rural Whatcom County prompted an emergency burn ban Friday afternoon, Feb. 7.

The ban on all outdoor fires, including recreational campfires, will last through the weekend for unincorporated parts of the county. Fines start at $250.

Several small grass fires around the county were intensified this week by dry winter weather and strong winds, according to the county fire marshal's office. All of the fires consumed more than an acre of land.

The streak of fires has been "extremely unusual," said Mitch Nolze, a county fire investigator.

Smoldering weeds likely sparked the first fire in a field around 1 p.m. Tuesday, off South Pass Road near Nooksack. The resident had burned the weeds earlier in a ditch. It took about a half-hour to get the flames under control.

Minutes later another fire in a field was reported on North Fork Road, near a barn. Investigators blamed improperly disposed fireplace ashes.

A shed and three or four acres of land on Sandy Point burned around 5 p.m. Thursday. At first the fire had been reported as about 300 square feet, but problems with water pressure and freezing fire hydrants complicated efforts to extinguish the flames, said Whatcom County Fire District 17 Chief Jim Petrie.

"It was so cold and dry that we had a couple of frozen fire hydrants," the fire chief said.

Firefighters remained on scene, in the 4300 block of Salt Spring Drive for more than three hours. Again, investigators pointed to improperly disposed ashes as the likely cause. Other than the shed, surrounding buildings weren't damaged.

On Friday morning, firefighters battled two more grass fires in western Whatcom County, one off Bay Road and another near North Star Road. Investigators believe one of them was sparked by careless campfire burning.

Check the county fire marshal website, co.whatcom.wa.us/pds/build/fire, for updates on when the ban is lifted.

There's a permanent ban on fires within city limits.

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