Tulalip Bay firefighters join strike team, help control eastern Washington wildland fires

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News; Photos courtesy of Tulalip Bay Fire Department 

It’s been a long hazy month for Washingtonians as wildfire smoke contaminated our air for the majority of August. At one point, Seattle even made national headlines for having worse air quality than Beijing, which is usually covered by a thick cloud of smog throughout most of the year. Smoke from both the Oregon and B.C. wildfires continues to circulate through the state, causing dangerous conditions for people with respiratory issues as well as pregnant women, elders, children and pets. Thousands of firefighters, covering a myriad of forest fires from all areas of the state, were called upon in an effort to control the flames during peak wildland fire season. 

Among the strike teams deployed across the state was the Northwest 3 Strike Team, comprised of firefighters from Bothell, East Jefferson, Skagit, Shoreline, Arlington and Tulalip Bay Fire Departments. Tulalip Bay’s own Collin Chavez, Patrick Dineen, James Shockley, Lindsay Muller, Shawn Carlson and Jacob Shoresman were on the strike team and bravely fought three large fires in eastern Washington to protect nearby residents and businesses and help bring an end to all of the haze.

“Tulalip Bay Fire is now a part of state mobilizations,” says Tulalip Bay Firefighter, Collin Chavez. “The way that works is when there’s a big incident, a big fire that warrants the need of statewide resources, the state will send over strike teams. The team we were on was the Northwest Strike Team, they’re comprised of departments from all over, typically bigger departments. Now Tulalip’s a part of that strike team, led by Chief Hots of Getchell, and we’re pretty excited to be a part of it.”

The strike team was on duty for seventeen days, serving sixteen hours on the frontline and getting minimal sleep each night. The team setup camp at local schools, sometimes in tents on ball fields and other times inside the school’s gymnasium. 

“It’s a constant rotation but being out there is fun. You work with a lot of different departments so you get to make friendships with people,” says Firefighter Patrick Dineen. “On the Cheney fire we got to work with an inmate crew, it was crazy but really cool. These guys are actually in prison and this is a job that they get to do.”

The crew visited three sites to help suppress the fires at Silver Lake, Grand Coulee and Boyds (Kettle Falls). The reason for the fires is still under investigation but it’s safe to say that the extreme heat and dry air were among the factors.

“The first fire was in Cheney, Washington at Silver Lake. We were the initial attack team.  As initial attack you arrive and you’re the first ones to attack the fire for structure protection of homes and buildings in the vicinity of the fire,” says Chavez. “From Silver Lake we went to Grand Coulee. That was a grass valley fire, it started out very small in acreage around five hundred to one thousand and within two days it jumped all the way to 78,000 acres. It spread very quickly, there were some high winds.

“The third fire we ended up on was the Boyds fire by Kettle Falls in Colville, Washington near the Canadian border. That was a bigger incident because there were a lot more residential and commercial structures nearby. Anytime there’s more threat to homes or towns, the incident usually increases in scale. The first two fires were type three, which is a smaller incident and this one was type two. It can be a little tiring and you get very dirty but there’s a sense of satisfaction. It was really cool to have our Tulalip rigs out there on the strike team. The citizens are a big part of it, there were a lot of evacuations, but there was still a lot of people in the town making signs, stopping by to say hi and just excited to see firefighters there to protect their towns and homes.”

The strike team members returned to their respective departments now that nearly all three of the fires are under containment. The crew still remains cautious, however, ready to return to battle at any given moment. 

“The seasons not over,” warns Dineen. “It’s calmed down a little but one lightning storm or one person throwing a cigarette butt out the window, we could have a whole ‘nother one pop up. Wildland season goes until October.”

“Stay current on the burn bans,” Chavez adds. “Adhere to the burn bans, that’s a huge way to prevent any type of grass or brush fire. Don’t go shooting any fireworks off, especially where there’s dry fuels. And protect your house, it’s always a good idea to have defensible space between your residence and any debris, wood or anything that could burn. And having sprinklers set-up will definitely be helpful. Just be aware and remember how dry it is and that fires can spread quickly.”

For more information, please contact the Tulalip Bay Fire Department at (360) 659-2416.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources bans all outdoor burning

Source: Courier Herald

With dangerously hot and dry weather driving fire danger to a new high, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is expanding the current statewide burn ban to cover all outdoor burning on all DNR-protected lands, with no exceptions, the agency announced today.

“All indicators are that we’ll continue to have high heat, low humidity, and storm systems with winds and lightning. That means huge potential for wildfires,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “We need to do everything we can to minimize danger to people, homes and habitat.”

Hot and dry conditions since early summer have caused very high fire hazard conditions throughout the state. These conditions have caused fires to spread rapidly and challenged firefighting efforts. More than $91 million has been spent so far battling wildfires in 2014, and more than 350,000 acres have burned across the state. There are many weeks to go in this year’s fire season, which usually runs into October.

All outdoor burning on DNR-protected lands is prohibited under this ban, including recreational fires in campgrounds or anywhere on DNR-protected lands. Fireworks and incendiary devices, such as exploding targets, sky lanterns, or tracer ammunition, are illegal on all DNR-protected lands. Charcoal briquettes are also not allowed.

In addition, DNR urges extreme caution around any activity that may cause a fire to start. Under these severe fire-hazard conditions, logging operations, land clearing, road and utility right-of-way maintenance, use of spark-emitting equipment, and other activities that create a high risk of fire ignition should be drastically curtailed.

Those who negligently allow fire to spread or who knowingly place forestlands in danger of destruction or damage are subject to possible civil liabilities and criminal penalties under state law. DNR, as well as anyone harmed by such a fire, may pursue damages that include loss of property and fire suppression costs.

The statewide burn ban will run through September 30, 2014. It applies to all lands under DNR fire protection, which does not include federally owned lands.