Public advised to use caution during Labor Day weekend to prevent wildfires in dry, hot weather

The public can play a role in preventing more wildfires in Washington. Friday, commissioner of public lands Hilary Franz made a call to action, after assessing damages from the Evans Canyon wildfire in Yakima and Kittitas counties that has burned about 70,000 acres.

"It is the largest fire we have, we are hoping it's going to be the last large fire this year. It starts with each one of us actually preventing fires from getting started and then doing everything we can to have the resources for our firefighters and the crew,” said Franz.

The commissioner said humans cause about 90 percent of wildfires. She mentioned Washington has seen an unprecedented amount of people outdoors at parks and trails, since several places remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody likes to hike Tiger or Si, so it’s hard to find a quieter path,” said Michael Soderman, visiting Centennial Park in Issaquah.

“Everyone has a drive to go outside, go play, enjoy the weather. Suddenly everyone is outdoorsy,” said Emma Russell, visiting Centennial Park in Issaquah.

As more people get out to enjoy activities for Labor Day weekend, they’re reminded to use extreme caution since the hot, dry temperatures ahead are the right conditions to easily spark a fire. Lt. Cody Ramstad of Eastside Fire and Rescue said the department has noticed the influx of people, resulting in fire fighters putting their wildfire trucks to use a lot more this season.

“It’s definitely been a busy summer. I think we’ve seen more small brush fires this summer than we have in years past just because more people are out, more people are doing things,” said Ramstad.

The more people recreating outdoors, Ramstad said the risk increases for dry grass to catch fire.

“We call these “light flashy fuels” because they burn really quick, really hot and fast. And then if that get into some downfuels with a little more mass to them, that can set us up for bigger larger fires,” said Ramstad.

Larger fires have been keeping their team busy. Ramstad said they have crews fighting wildfires in California, Oregon and the Evans Canyon Fire in Washington. With resources at their department stretched thin, Ramstad crews are relying on the public to make safe and smart decisions this Labor Day weekend in the hot, dry weather.

“Using common sense and really good judgement on the types of activities they’re doing. Making sure that if they do have a campfire, it’s completely out before they go away and it’s not monitored anymore. Those small little steps are going to make a big impact on whether or not we have a major fire event on our side of the mountains,” said Ramstad.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has safety tips to help prevent fires. The tips suggest not burning debris, don’t drag chains from vehicles, don’t park on dry grass, no target shooting, no fireworks and no dispersed campfires. Though the summer weather hasn’t been great for the lawn, people are still trying to keep their yards neat. It’s suggested they mow the lawn before 10 A.M. to avoid sparking any flames.

Ramstad said Eastside Fire and Rescue will be closely monitoring the hot dry weather and wind over the next seven to 10 days.