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‘We are one good, dry easterly wind away from a bad fire event in Whatcom County’

A burn ban is in effect. So what does that mean?

Several counties in Washington state have implemented a burn ban due to hot, dry weather and wildfire danger. Recreational fires are still allowed, with precautions.
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Several counties in Washington state have implemented a burn ban due to hot, dry weather and wildfire danger. Recreational fires are still allowed, with precautions.

Even though Whatcom County’s June Gloom stretched through most of Independence Day weekend and the National Weather Service is predicting showers through Thursday, we are not out of fire danger, yet.

Not even close.

“We are one good, dry easterly wind away from a bad fire event in Whatcom County,” North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Division Chief of Operations Jason Vander Veen told The Bellingham Herald.

For that reason, Vander Veen said the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s declaration Monday, July 8, that a burn ban would begin Friday, July 12, for unincorporated portions of the county was “very timely and will be well received by fire agencies in the county.”

Under the ban, which goes into effect at 8 a.m., all land clearing and yard debris burning must be discontinued and burn permits will be suspended.

With the landowner’s permission, recreational fires still will be allowed, provided:

The fire must burn only seasoned firewood or charcoal.

The fire must be in an enclosure no larger than a 3-foot square and at least 16 inches tall made of cement, stones or steel.

The fire must be 25 feet away from structures, timber or other combustible materials.

Beach fires in locations they are allowed must be in an 8-inch pit and surrounded by a 4-inch high enclosure of rocks.

A charged garden hose or two 5-gallon buckets full of water must be kept on hand.

The fire is attended until it is completely out and cold to the touch. Someone over the age of 16 must be present for fires after dark.

Winds are not blowing more than 7 mph.

Violations of the burn ban can result in a minimum fine of $250, and you may have to pay for the costs to put out a fire and face criminal charges if your fire escapes.

“We’ve known since we had that cold snap back in February that this was going to be a dry year and a bad year for brush fires,” Vander Veen told The Herald. “It’s definitely turned out to be that. It started in early spring — late winter, really — and kept on going.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had anything huge. Residents have been pretty concerned about a brush fire getting away from them and have used good judgment.”

Whatcom County’s neighbors to the north have also seen a relatively quiet start to the fire season, which is a positive sign for those worried about smokey skies again this summer.

According to a Vancouver Sun article Monday, British Columbia has had 466 reported fires burning approximately 28,500 acres of land since April 1 — less than a quarter of the numbers seen at this point last year, when the province went on to see its worst wildfire season on record with a total of 2,117 fires torching more than 3.3 million acres.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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