Record state temps bring fire bans

Record state temps bring fire bans
Smoke from a wildfire is seen in this aerial view Sunday, July 8, 2007, about three miles northwest of Wenatchee, Wash. (AP Photo/Wenatchee World, Mike Bonnicksen)
WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) - The record high temperatures baking Washington this week have forced land managers to impose burn bans to lessen the wildfire danger.

High temperature records were set Wednesday at Stampede Pass in the Cascade Mountains, in Olympia and in Seattle, which broke the July 11, 1951, record of 95 degrees when the thermometer hit 98 in the early evening. Bellingham and Quillayute matched record highs Wednesday.

Temperatures should cool off some west of the Cascades, but stifling heat is expected to continue in Eastern Washington, where temperatures ranging from 99 to 107 degrees are forecast for Thursday and Friday.

The extreme heat already has state lands officials and fire marshals across the state imposing burn restrictions.

Beginning Thursday, campfires will only be allowed in developed or designated campgrounds in north-central Washington's Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests.

In King, Kitsap, Mason and Pierce counties, fire marshals are restricting forest and yard debris burning and land burning, effective July 13.

Washington's current high temperatures and dry conditions are a recipe for a catastrophic wildfire, said state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland.

"Forests across the state are extremely dry, and the smallest spark can cause a fire that destroys a wildlife habitat and threatens communities," Sutherland said in a statement. "We can't emphasize enough how important it is to comply with these burn restrictions."

West of Yakima, the Naches Ranger District of the Wenatchee National Forest is requiring woodcutters and timber harvest operations to shut down chain saws and other equipment early each afternoon to reduce the risk of sparking a fire.

The district hasn't yet imposed any burn restrictions, but they may come soon, said Ranger Randy Shepard. The district burned about 3,200 acres this spring as part of its prescribed burn program to clear away undergrowth in the forest. Fire managers had hoped to burn 5,000 acres.

"Keep your eyes open for restrictions that may be implemented. We're not far from that point," Shepard said. "As long as fires are allowed, keep them small. Clear any vegetation away from the fire ring, and before leaving, make sure the fire is out.

"Drown it, stir it and drown it again. Then feel it."

On the wildfire lines, the Easy Street fire was 95 percent contained Wednesday. The fire has scorched 8 square miles, or 5,209 acres, about 3 miles northwest of Wenatchee since being sparked by fireworks Saturday.

The Palisades fire east of Wenatchee also was 95 percent contained, having burned nearly 5 square miles of range land, wheat fields and sagebrush. The cause of the fire was noted as suspicious and remained under investigation.

To the north in Okanogan County, the Little Chopaka Fire has burned more than 6 square miles about 10 miles northwest of Loomis, near the Canadian border. Firefighters were mostly doing mop-up Wednesday on the blaze that burned in scattered timber, sagebrush and range land in steep, rocky terrain.

The fire was 90 percent contained. Its cause was not immediately known.