Washington firefighters use prescribed burn to prepare for wildfire season

STEVENS CO., Wash. – If you saw some smoke in the air today, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) started a controlled fire in Stevens County, letting it burn for several hours. This is done to prepare for wildfire season, which is only a few weeks away.

The Inland Northwest is filled with a lot of trees, brush and grass. In an area just two miles east of Springdale in Stevens County, Lt. Ken Torno, with the Stevens County Fire District 1 said it’s a “tinder box of fuel.”

“That’s just waiting for somebody to light it on fire or a lightning strike and we have to come and deal with it,” Torno said.

There is plenty of dead branches, needles and dead grass, all of which are considered fuel for wildfires. With all that there, it could make a wildfire spread much quicker if one were to start.

On Tuesday morning, DNR firefighters gathered to go over details to start a prescribed burn, something that takes a lot of planning. To prepare, DNR comes out to the area to clear out some trees to keep the prescribed burn under control.

DNR also keeps an eye out on the weather, knowing that if certain conditions come up, they cannot do the prescribed burn. The department tried to do the burn in Stevens County for five weeks, however, it kept raining.

There are plenty of boxes the agency needs to check before doing the controlled burn.

“[A prescribed burn is] going to create an ecological benefit and also create safer conditions for firefighters. If we have a fire start in this area, we’ll have a greater chance at catching it small and protecting the homes and other resources in this area,” said Andrew Stenbeck, the East Uplands State Lands Manager for DNR.

“By them burning all this fuel in this area, this is 100 acres in our fire district we don’t have to worry about,” Torno added.

While firefighters prepare by burning, they’re asking residents to be prepared, too. Torno is asking residents to start preparing their properties and remove any potential fuels around their homes.

“Having go bags ready in case you need to evacuate,” he added.

Tuesday’s burn was one of the first few times in 18 years DNR started a prescribed burn, according to Stenbeck. DNR said there was a lack of funding, lack of resources and changes in air quality standards among other factors that kept the agency from doing prescribed burns for so long. If any agencies do prescribe burns near your home, many will be contacted before it happens.

READ: Firewise program aims to keep locals prepared from wildfires

READ: How to protect your home during wildfire season