By SVERRE BAKKE
Hot and dry.
The mere mention of those words sends firefighters throughout Klickitat County into a state of alert. And for good reason.
It's getting hotter and drier out there with each passing day in the county's rural and forested areas where firefighters might be called upon to do the dirty work of containing, controlling and, finally, stamping out wildfire.
So, with fire season here to stay for the next few months, agencies around the county -- those with responsibility for protecting the public's safety, health and welfare -- are doing their part to make the citizenry aware of the gravity of the situation.
Because of the onset of hot, dry climatic conditions and the approach of the Fourth of July holiday, public agencies have instituted fire prevention and danger awareness measures that call on citizens to use common sense during the fire season.
Local authorities emphasize that the success of these measures is totally dependent on the cooperation of citizens.
According to the Northwest Fire Coordination Center, no major fires were burning in Washington or Oregon as of Monday, June 24.
Not so in seven other Western states, where 19 large fires (including seven in Colorado and three in Arizona) had burned 2.3 million acres to date, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
But, because of below-normal spring rainfall and the melting of low-elevation snowpacks, fire conditions in the Northwest are ripening.
The NFCC said Washington and Oregon will likely reach "fire station conditions" by the end of next week.
Rural Fire Protection Districts 3 and 4 were among the first in western Klickitat County to enact bans on all forms of outdoor burning due to fire risks. Those bans are in effect and will remain so until further notice.
District 4 encompasses the greater Lyle area, while District 3 includes the Husum, BZ Corner, Snowden and unincorporated areas around White Salmon.
On Monday, White Salmon and Glenwood announced bans on outdoor burning in their coverage areas.
White Salmon's ban is effective immediately, said Fire Chief Tom Smith, and covers such outlying areas as Strawberry Mountain, Pucker Huddle, and Fruit Valley, where the city fire department has responsibility under contract with District 3. Otherwise, outdoor burning in the White Salmon city limits is prohibited year-round. The city banned all outdoor burning in 2000.
The ban in Glenwood's Fire District 8 (north of Laurel to the Yakima County line) starts July 1 and runs until further notice. It prohibits all open flames as well as the operation of spark-emitting equipment.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners joined the fire prevention fight on June 10 when it adopted a burn ban for all unincorporated areas of the county. That ban starts July 1 and runs through Sept. 30.
Klickitat County's resolution defines outdoor burning as "combustion of any type in an open fire or open container."
In their resolution, the commissioners determined that the fire danger in the county is serious and that unrestricted outdoor burning threatens public safety.
"Due to the extreme fire hazards experienced in the summer and early fall, and varying precipitation, the various fire districts, through the Interagency Fire Association, have requested that an outdoor burn ban be adopted within the unincorporated areas of Klickitat County, to be in effect from July 1 through Sept. 30," read the resolution.
The city of Bingen, likewise, has ordered all outdoor burning within city limits to cease as of July 1.
Also on June 10, Klickitat County's Board of Commissioners voted to limit the discharge of Independence Day fireworks in the county (unincorporated areas). Fireworks will be allowed only on July 4, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
However, fireworks won't be allowed on property owned by Klickitat County Port District No. 1 on July 4 or any other time of the year, Executive Director Dianne Sherwood announced.
"We will have reserve deputies out on patrol enforcing that fact," Sherwood noted. "They will confiscate any fireworks found on port property."
The Port's ban on fireworks applies to Port-owned property on Bingen Point as well as in Dallesport.
The Port Commission banned fires and fireworks on Port property because "potentially catastrophic fires, due to the misuse of fire or fireworks set off by the public, could destroy Port-owned improvements as well as tenant improvements."