Wildfire danger risks worsen as the state prepares for hunting season

TACOMA, Wash. – At Bass Pro Shops in Tacoma, talk is all about the season opener. “It’s been pretty busy so far,” said Joshua Jones. “They’re coming into get powder, primers, everything they need to start practicing and get ready for season.”

Major muzzle loader seasons open in 11 days, for some, the hunting began at the beginning of September. Whatever category you fall into, Western Washington’s fire danger is a risk to watch said Jones.

“Just be mindful when you do have that go off you’re not in an area of high tall grass,” said Jones, pointing towards the barrel of a gun. “That extra muzzle flash might start a fire.”

Gunfire is to blame for a wildfire in California this summer that burned more than 60 homes to the ground. The Detwiler Fire scorched 80 thousand acres near Yosemite. Officials are now looking for the person responsible after determining the cause.

Gunfire starting wildfires may seem rare, but it’s a real risk.

“A small breeze and a spark,” said Coy Chapple, “it’s bad for everybody, including wildlife.”

Chapple said he’s been hunting for nearly three decades, and he has never seen a summer like the one Washington is having. He said it’s concerning as an outdoor enthusiast, knowing the risks involved.

“Most people think campfires, discarded cigarettes, things like that, but a vehicle just going over some tall grass with a hot muffler can start a fire,” he said.

Chapple said many established hunting grounds have been shut down for entire seasons due to drought. He wouldn’t be surprised he said if it happens again this year. “A lot of the timber industries will lock their gates,” he said.

It either means you don’t hunt or, he said, the areas that you can go hunt will be heavily populated. It’s the latter that’s concerning to fire officials. The wet winter western Washington experienced isn’t enough to counteract what’s happened this summer. In fact, Captain Kyle Ohashi with Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority said it’s only made things worse.

“The wet winter and wet spring, what that did was it just increased the amount of things growing in this area, which now that they have dried out have just added to the fire load,” said Ohashi.

Ohashi said that extra growth can make getting to a hunting destination just as dangerous, especially if you’re driving an ATV or dirt bike.

“They run very hot,” said Ohashi. “The muffler, parts of the engine, if you stop those things on dry grass, whether they have a spark arrester or not, just the radiant heat from the hot portions of those engines can actually start fires.”

It means hunters need to be vigilant and aware said Ohashi. It’s the same advice Jones is giving to customers stocking up this week.

“You can still go out and hunt, you just need to be a little more responsible with it, make sure you are being a good steward of the land that we’re given.”