Thursday, April 25, 2024

High winds, dry conditions keep firefighters on edge

Staff Writer | August 29, 2020 1:00 AM

Larry Simms said he didn’t need to have a happy weekend.

“I’m just hoping to have a quiet weekend,” the longtime firefighter and chief of the Hauser Lake Fire Protection District said Friday.

While sunshine and highs around 80 are in the forecast today, weather models are predicting high winds in the midst of a dry spell in Kootenai County. It’s enough to make Simms worried about the days ahead.

“In the short-term, for this weekend, just be careful,” he warned. “If you’re going to have a campfire — which is allowed — don’t (light a campfire) if it’s too windy. And make sure, if you light one, make sure you don’t leave it unattended. We’ve had a lot of people start a fire this summer and then just leave them.”

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for most of eastern Washington and the North Idaho Panhandle, where a dry cold front is expected to create wind gusts as high as 45 mph between 2 and 9 p.m. here today. That, matched with low humidity and already-dry vegetation, could turn the smallest of fires into something disastrous.

While the National Weather Service’s alert focused primarily on eastern Washington, firefighters say they’re preparing for similar conditions in North Idaho.

“I don’t know how the wind knows how to stop blowing at the state line,” Tyler Drechsel, fire marshal for Northern Lakes Fire District, jokingly wondered. “We really don’t know what to expect. We know there’s going to be wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour in our region, so we’re going into the weekend prepared.”

Drechsel added that some of the most common ways campers can carelessly start fires happen long before they reach their campsites.

“A big danger for potential fires starts along travelways,” he said. “Faulty brakes — having that metal-on-metal — can easily start fires. Chains dragging from trailers are another one."

Both fire officials noted that Kootenai County has been fortunate this fire season, with only a few blazes to battle, including a fire on Fourth of July Pass, a small fire in Athol and a bigger blaze near Spirit Lake.

“This is the first year we haven’t gone into a total burn ban at some time in July,” Simms said. “But people have to be very, very careful.