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Rural Fire Crews Stand Ready in Northeast Washington

Will Folsom via Flickr, Creative Commons License

Rural fire crews in northeast Washington are on alert, hoping no major fires break out before the rains finally arrive.

The ponderosa forests of Stevens County are tinder dry right now, and fire managers hope they have enough resources to be able to handle what might be in store before fire season is over. In Fire District 1, there are eight paid crew members and 50-55 volunteers. The district has eight stations that cover 375 square miles of southeast Stevens County.

District 1 Fire Chief Mike Bucy says fire seasons in 2014 and 2015 were extremely busy for the district but last summer, and so far this summer, have been slow with just minor fires.

This summer, they have been sharing their resources, crew members and trucks with other fire districts. One of those fires being the Jolly Mountain fire, burning near Cle Elum.

Bucy says resources in the state right now are getting spread pretty thin but they try to prepare locally for what might be ahead.

“If we do have a big event coming up, a red flag warning, a fire weather watch, anything like that, we try to put a lot of extra staffing on," he said. "We pay our volunteers extra to come in, and staff rigs with our career guys, so have more resources to put on the fire quickly.”

Bucy says the strategy is to get a handle on any fire that breaks out within one hour. He says they often coordinate with other Stevens and Spokane County districts for any local fires.

He says air resources are available through the Department of Natural Resources, with a couple of smaller planes and two helicopters based close by in Deer Park.

“There are, I believe, a plane and helicopter up in Colville, and the other place for us is Omak, and they can get here in 25 minutes. And the heavier retardant planes, there are some based in Moses Lake and some in Coeur d Alene,” Bucy said.

Bucy says the planes are important especially for the initial response to a wildfire.

He adds that his district and others are always looking for additional volunteer firefighters. Anyone interested can contact their local fire station for more information.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.