By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The Alder Lake fire continues to grow and progress to the southeast, but an expected change to wet and cooler weather in Western Washington could bring some relief.
The National Weather Service indicates that tomorrow through the weekend rain will become locally heavy at times, especially in the mountains. Daytime temperatures are forecast to be lower than normal, with many lowland sites not even reaching 70 degrees, according to the weather service.
The conditions could help reduce the size of or even end ongoing fires in the mountains, the forecasters said this morning.
The forest fire northwest of Mineral has now consumed 225 acres and is threatening residences on or near the Pleasant Valley Road, outside of Mineral. Those living there were told yesterday afternoon to start making plans to evacuate.
The firefighting effort is being managed by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the state Department of Natural Resources. About 105 personnel remain assigned to the lightning-sparked fire that was discovered 17 days ago just south of Alder Lake.
While the end or break in the hot, dry spell is surely welcome news, Steve Mansfield of Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, cautions the public to remain vigilant about fire danger.
“The Pacific Northwest has reached such a low moisture level, it may take weeks once the rain starts before the danger of fire is reduced,” Mansfield stated in a news release today.
Although outdoor burning is usually prohibited during the driest months of the year in unincorporated Lewis County, officials earlier this month issued a ban on even recreational fires, as did the cities of Chehalis and Centralia.
Besides the Alder Lake fire, Lewis County has seen three other large vegetation fires already this month, each increasingly bigger. Last week a grass fire in Onalaska rolled through 175 acres, decimating a farming operation and consuming 200,000 chickens with their barns.
Still, some fire departments have been running a little ragged, responding to calls that turn out to be illegal burning.
Every time it rains a bit, that picks up, Firefighter Brad Bozarth said.
Bozarth estimated his department, Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue in Napavine, has gone to 30 such calls since the restrictions were put in place.
“Usually its recreational fires, or someone burning trash,” he said.
For a first offense, the firefighters usually just advise the people of the rules, he said.
Earlier this week, Mossyrock’s fire chief was feeling less patient about those who’ve ignored the danger.
Lewis County Fire District 3 Chief Doug Fosburg said his department chased campfires all weekend. The offenders usually claim they didn’t know of the ban, he said.
“People haven’t gotten the idea they can’t have open flames,” he said.
Each time he and his crews are toned out, they have to react as though it’s a working structure fire, with everyone responding, he said.
In one case, Fosburg said, the resident assumed since they’d watered their yard, it would be fine.
“I explained, you can’t control what goes airborne,” he said.
Both he and Salkum’s fire chief had to stop what they were doing at the Gore Road chicken farm to deal with illegal burns, he said.
Ignoring the outdoor burn ban can be costly even if one doesn’t accidentally burn down their neighbors house.
Acting Lewis County Fire Marshal Lee Napier said it’s a civil infraction which can bring a fine of up to $250.
On the criminal side, the sanction is a gross misdemeanor, with the possibility of a fine up to $10,000 and up to 364 days in jail.
Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said yesterday morning she wasn’t aware of any such citations issued this year.
Typically, reports of illegal burning are handled by the particular fire department, according to Brown.
“The fire department then goes out and evaluates the situation and typically educates the person,” Brown said. “If the person refuses to put it out or causes a problem, then we respond and use our discretion, as always, to evaluate the situation.”
Chief Fosburg said he doesn’t give people a choice. He waits and watches the campfire getting put out, and sticks around to make sure it’s entirely extinguished.
“If I have to go back more than once, I will bring law enforcement with me,” he said.
The causes of the first three big fires are unknown, although the sheriff’s office said preliminarily the Gore Road incident was believed to have been sparked by a brush hog operating in a field. DNR is investigating them.
Outdoor burning in unincorporated Lewis County has been prohibited since mid-June, with the increased restrictions put into place within days of the Centralia-Alpha Road fire.
Those in the Mineral area have been advised to continue to monitor their local news media.
The weather service has also noted it it will likely become locally windy on Saturday due to a strong front moving across the area.
For the details about the specifics:
For background, read “Fire evacuation alerts issued for residents west of Mineral” from Wednesday August 26, 2015, here