Wildfires continue to burn across Whatcom County

The Department of Natural Resources continues to monitor four wildfires throughout Whatcom County that started over the Fourth of July weekend.

As of Monday afternoon, July 6, a fire burning on the north side of Stewart Mountain east of Bellingham had burned 35 acres, according to DNR media contact Janet Pierce. Two helicopters plus a National Guard helicopter were working part of Monday to contain the blaze along with ground crews, though that was reduced to two helicopters later in the day.

As of about 4:30 p.m. Monday, Pierce said crews had managed to create a controlled line around some of the fire. A release from Whatcom Unified Emergency Management stated the fire was about 20 percent contained.

An 8-acre fire on Portage Island is now 100 percent contained, and crews were mopping up the area Monday, Pierce said. The island, which is part of Lummi Reservation, was not subject to Whatcom County or DNR burn bans. However, on Sunday Lummi Nation issued its own burn ban, which means no more fireworks or burning of yard waste. Recreational burn permits are suspended. Recreational fires that are no more than 3 feet in diameter, built in an enclosure or in a burn barrel, are still permitted, as are cultural fires.

A 4-acre brush fire around North Shore Road and Agate Bay Lane was called in early Sunday, July 5. Crews were working Monday to ensure it was extinguished.

A new fire off Paradise Valley Road near South Pass Road was called in late Sunday night, Pierce said. As of Monday, only 1 acre had burned and it had been fully contained. Crews were mopping up the area, according to Pierce.

Causes of all four fires remained under investigation as of Monday, Pierce said.

Whatcom County fire departments also stayed busy responding to fires and fireworks-related calls throughout the holiday weekend.

North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Chief Henry Hollander said crews responded to about 80 incidents over the weekend, a large number of which involved fireworks. Many were reported Sunday, July 5, rather than Independence Day, Hollander said.

As the department typically sees about 10 calls a day, the holiday weekend workload was above average.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed for some cooler, wetter weather,” Hollander said.

South Whatcom Fire Authority Chief Dave Ralston said his department also kept busy during Independence Day weekend, noting that it was one of the busiest fireworks seasons he had seen.

“Once darkness hit, everyone was out doing their fireworks,” he said.

What proved especially concerning was the speed at which many fires started, Ralston said.

Even seemingly healthy shrubs and grass could catch a spark and start a fire faster than is typically seen this time of year, he said. The dryness and heat experienced by Whatcom County over the last several weeks played a central role in elevated fire danger.

Ralston also noted that many residents were quick to respond to small fires, which helped keep them from growing too large.

South Whatcom Fire Authority responded to about 24 calls over the weekend, about nine of which were fireworks related, Ralston said.

“We’re stretched thin but we’re maintaining,” he said.

Libby Keller can be reached at 360-715-2242 or libby.keller@bellinghamherald.com.

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