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I smell smoke

An evening relaxing around a fire pit with friends is not uncommon in nicer weather.  Just as common, are the worried posts on community groups proclaiming, “I smell smoke.”  With the frequency of brush fires and expanding size of wildfires in recent years, concern for fire-related incidents has elevated.

The raised worry is not without reason.  Last year Valley Regional Fire Authority had approximately 120 brush fire incidents in Auburn.   VRFA Wildland Certified Firefighters were deployed eight times for major wildland fires in support of the Department of Natural Resources, the state of Washington and California (2). Their deployment time totaled 325 days.

Burn Permits and Recreational Fires

There are proper fire safety measures that community members can take to prevent fires.  First, the only fires permitted in the City of Auburn, which is considered an “urban growth area” are “recreational fires.”  This is per the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 173-425.

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A home sits in the foreground of a looming wildfire | Courtesy, VRFA

According to WAC 173-425, a “recreational fire” means cooking fires, campfires using charcoal or firewood that occur in designated areas or on private property for cooking, pleasure, or ceremonial purposes. Fires used for debris disposal purposes are not considered recreational fires but are considered residential fires.  Residential burning (yard waste and land maintenance), bonfires and land clearing fires are not permitted within the VRFA service area (Algona, Auburn, and Pacific).

A burn permit is required to have a “recreational fire.”  These permits are issued by VRFA and are free.  In 2018, 498 burn permits were issued.  You can obtain a permit online, or at stations 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 or 38.  Note: recreational burn permits will not be issued during a burn ban.

VRFA Recreational Fire Rules:

    • POST YOUR PRINTED PERMIT IN A HIGHLY VISIBLE LOCATION
    • Fire must be contained in a fire pit constructed of concrete, metal, or other non-combustible material §
      • Note: Burn barrels are illegal in Washington
    • Fire must be no larger than (3) three feet in diameter and no more than (2) two feet in height
    • A responsible adult of sound judgment must attend to the fire at all times
    • A hose with a reliable water supply must be readily available, able to reach at least 10 feet beyond the fire pit
    • Fire pits are not allowed within 25 feet of any structure, property line, public way (streets etc.) or other combustible material
    • You may burn: §
      • Charcoal, dried firewood, manufactured fire logs
    • You may NOT burn: §
      • Garbage, yard waste, treated materials, plastics, or other vegetation

NOTICE: You must extinguish the fire upon the request of neighbors or any authorized city representative.

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Courtesy VRFA

Burn Bans:

It goes without saying, that burning during a burn ban is not permitted.  The VRFA website states that “regardless of a filled out VRFA Burn Permit and burn pit within the established parameters, if Puget Sound Clean Air has declared that a burn ban is in effect the VRFA will not allow permitted burning until the burn ban is no longer in effect.”  Burn bans are issued by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) or the Fire Marshal.  Burn bans can be issued for air quality reasons, or fire safety reasons. As per PSCAA:

  • Air quality burn bans are issued and enforced by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency when air pollution levels rise to unhealthy levels. Air quality burn bans typically occur during colder fall and winter months.
  • Fire safety burn bans are issued by the fire marshal when dry weather conditions heighten the risk of wildfires. Fire safety burn bans are generally called during the summer and can last for several months. PSCAA is NOT responsible for issuing or enforcing fire safety burn bans.

Find Out If There’s a Burn Ban In Effect:

Before burning, check if there is a burn ban.  Burning during a burn ban may result in fines from $2,000, plus the cost of reimbursing the fire department for responding.

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A firefighter doses where a brush fire ignited | Courtesy, VRFA

To confirm if a ban is in place, call 1-800-595-4341.  This 24-hour recorded message line will provide information regarding air quality and on-going burn bans.  You can confirm fire safety burns by contacting your county fire marshal or visit waburnbans.net.  Burn bans issued by the Department of Natural Resources on lands protected by the DNR can be found online here or by calling 1-800-323-BURN (2876).

Last year Seattle had the worst air quality in the world for several days, due to wildfire smoke.  Do your part and help prevent brush fires and wildfires by burning responsibly.  If you won’t do it for the sake of the environment, do it for the men and women who deploy to fight these fires every year.

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