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Crews poised for wildfire season

— Fire Chief Kevin Bowling said it’s still too early to tell what this year’s fire season will bring.

“Omak fire has responded to nine brush fires this spring,” he said, noting that’s “a little above average.”

Of those, eight were human-caused and the cause of the other is unknown. The largest fire was three acres.

“The No. 1 cause of out of control fires we see is people not completely extinguishing their fires before leaving it,” Bowling said. “Then the wind comes up and spreads the fire.”

While local burn bans haven’t been enacted yet, the state Department of Natural Resources is declaring the start of fire season Tuesday on 13 million acres of the public lands it protects.

Wildfire season lasts through Oct. 15, wherein restrictions are placed on cigarette smoking, fireworks and use of motorized equipment. Loggers, firewood cutters, road builders, bulldozer operators, off-road motorcyclists must have state-approved spark arresters and fire extinguishing equipment.

The agency has reported 20 forest fires so far this year on its lands.

“DNR wants to remind people that the risk of wildfires can change rapidly during the spring when warmer, dryer weather occurs with increasing frequency,” the agency said in a news release.

“Dry and unhealthy forests continue to be a fire hazard and will for many years. It takes only one spark to start a fire that can have catastrophic results.”

Okanogan, Ferry and Douglas County commissioners typically enact burn bans in early summer each year. Last year, bans didn’t go into effect until early July.

Meanwhile, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is preparing for a normal fire season, according to spokeswoman Robin DeMario.

“It looks like… the forecast is for a normal to dry summer with a possibility of fire season starting earlier,” she said, noting that the season typically begins in early to mid-July. “It all depends on Mother Nature and how much moisture we get this spring.”

Without enough rain, grasses, sagebrush and other fuels may dry out more quickly and increase fire risk, she said. The number of fires is also dependent on how many lightning storms strike.

DeMario said there have been no fires so far this spring on National Forest lands. There were about 165 fires last year, which is about average, she said.

The Methow Valley and Tonasket Ranger Districts plan to start spring prescribed burning operations this month in several areas.

Methow Valley Ranger District is planning treatments northwest of Winthrop near Eightmile Creek and Fawn Creek; west of Twisp near Little Bridge Creek; west of Methow in the McFarland Creek and Squaw Creek drainages.

They could start within a week or two, depending on weather conditions, Fire Management Officer Meg Trebon said.

Tonasket Ranger District has planned prescribed burning treatments in the Mt. Annie and Lyman Lake areas southeast of Tonasket, as well as the Mutton area north of Conconully and the North Flank project area near Havillah.

Last year, Natural Resources fought 764 fires that burned about 126,219 acres, the majority being less than 10 acres in size.

Natural Resources personnel do not protect structures or private property from wildfires.

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