Most outdoor and agricultural burning has been banned in the Mid-Columbia by Gov. Jay Inslee, as Washington copes with the largest fire in state history.
Tri-City-area residents are donating money and goods to help those who have lost their homes or been evacuated, particularly in the 379-square-mile fire burning in northcentral Washington. More than 150 homes and buildings have been destroyed there.
The Benton-Franklin chapter of the Red Cross has sent three volunteers to the shelter in Brewster, but is keeping most volunteers in the Mid-Columbia with the threat looming this week of thunderstorms that could ignite wildfires closer to home.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag fire warning for the Tri-Cities and much of Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon from 11 a.m. Tuesday to 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Lightning could start new fires in dry vegetation, even though some rain might fall with the storms, according to the weather service.
In the Tri-Cities, a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms is forecast tonight, increasing to a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms after 11 a.m. Wednesday into the evening.
Winds could build to 13 to 18 mph Wednesday in the Tri-Cities with gusts as high as 31 mph. Wednesday night, southwest winds of 17 to 21 mph are forecast, with gusts as high as 33 mph.
Air quality is compromised by smoke from the fires in the Spokane area and is at unhealthy levels in northcentral Washington, but remains rated as “good” in the Tri-City area.
The ban on most outdoor and agricultural burning extends until noon Friday, but could be extended if wildfire danger remains high.
The ban prohibits campfires and bonfires, residential yard debris cleanup, trash disposal, land clearing, weed burning and other agricultural burning, and fireworks. Gas-fueled stoves are allowed if used on a nonflammable surface at least five feet from flammable vegetation. Charcoal grills are allowed at homes under the same conditions.
Campfires at state, county and city parks and campgrounds are allowed if individual parks allow them, according to the governor’s staff.
The Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuges already have banned all activities likely to start a fire, including the use of charcoal briquettes and cooking stoves and smoking outside an enclosed vehicle.
“Weather conditions, including high winds, lightning and high temperatures continue to make conditions extremely challenging,” Inslee said. “Our resources are stretched thin and fire crews are doing everything possible. We must take every possible precaution to reduce the risk of additional fires.”
The ban covers Benton, Franklin, Adams, Asotin, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties.
Making a donation
The Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross is collecting money to help those displaced by wildfires in a Washington Wildfire Relief fund.
Donations can be dropped off at the Kennewick Red Cross office or mailed to the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross, 7202 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, WA 99336. Checks should be made out to the Red Cross with a note on the checks that the money should go to Washington Wildfire Relief.
Donations also can be made at www.redcross.org, by clicking on “donate now.” Donations can go to disaster relief, although they cannot be designated online specifically for Washington wildfire help.
The three Tri-City area volunteers arrived at Brewster to help at a shelter Sunday night. The local chapter’s emergency response vehicle also will be sent to help feed people at shelters, said Cody Campbell, disaster program manager for the Benton-Franklin chapter.
Stemp Screenprinting in Kennewick also has organized a donation drive for those who have lost their homes.
The business is collecting items such as bottled water, personal hygiene supplies, nonperishable food and pet and other animal food, said business owner Cory Stemp.
He has relatives in Brewster who have been evacuated, and his brother-in-law’s grandmother’s house has been consumed by fire, Stemp said. ServPro in Kennewick has offered a truck and trailer to haul the supplies he collects to Brewster. He plans to make the trip Saturday.
Donations can be dropped off at Stemp Screenprinting at 13 S. Dayton St.
Preparing for wildfires
Rural property owners should be prepared for a wildfire by clearing a natural firebreak for their home and outbuildings, according to the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
Rural homeowners should make sure they have a ladder that can reach the roof and a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. An outside water source should be maintained, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
A portable gasoline-powered pump might be needed if electrical power is cut off.
FEMA also recommends going to www.firewise.org for more information. Its tips include keeping lawns green and maintained. If grass turns brown, it should be cut down to reduce fire intensity. Any dead vegetation should be removed from under the deck and within 10 feet of the house.
Flammable materials, such as firewood stacks and propane tanks, should not be within 30 feet of a building. Prune trees so branches are six to 10 feet off the ground.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews