Tri-Citians heading outside for fun and adventure during the Memorial Day weekend are being urged to remember Smokey Bear's message "Only YOU can prevent wildfires."
Following simple safety steps is all that's required to help keep everyone safe -- and not ruin people's fun, officials say.
"We want everyone to enjoy their Memorial Day weekend, while being safe and taking simple steps to prevent an accidental wildfire," said Peter Goldmark, state commissioner of public lands. "An escaped campfire can threaten lives (and) property, and drain scarce tax dollars."
Firefighters statewide have responded to 51 wildland fires so far this year.
To help prevent wildfires, campers are urged to only build fires in approved pits, clear debris from the campfire pits and use a shovel and water to completely extinguish fires before leaving.
In the Tri-Cities, fire crews have had a busy spring responding to brush fires -- and officials say conditions only will get worse.
Benton County fire officials posted the fire danger rating as "moderate" through the holiday weekend. The rating could have be elevated to "high" for the first time this year, but this week's cool and wet weather kept things in check.
"Those ratings are an indicator of how easy a fire can start," Benton County Fire Marshal Ken Williams said. "The moderate rating should alert the public that conditions are starting to dry out. Depending on the conditions at that particular time, it could really be in a high category."
All campfires should be treated as if the area is in an "extremely high" rating, Williams said. Campers must take extra precautions to make sure there's no chance of a fire restarting.
"For years the fire service has preached 'Don't just spray a little water on it and think the fire's out.' You need to dig it up, stir it and put more water on it. Dig it up, stir it and put more water on it again," he said.
Williams said the best way to check is to feel with your hand and make sure there's no heat left. Remember to use common sense before sticking your hand in the fire pit.
"Believe it or not, there have been fires started days after a campfire is thought to be out," Williams said. "If you have a big hunk of wood under that ash, the ash is said to be an insulator, and when the winds come up, it gets the coals burning and starts the fire and we're off to the races."
Tri-Citians planning to go four-wheeling also should make sure all their vehicles have mufflers to reduce sparks. They also shouldn't park in heavily weeded areas and let the vehicles idle because exhaust systems also can start a fire, Williams said.