Fire risk is high in Clark County, likely to shoot up

With dry east winds on the way, even gray skies aren't protection

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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While clouds have been seen over Clark County in recent days, fire officials are reminding citizens that fire danger remains high and that the heightened fire season is right around the corner.

"We have not peaked yet by any means," said Fire District 13 Chief Ben Peeler. "The time that I get fearful is the first part of September. Dry east winds start kicking up in late August, early September."

Tim Dawdy, spokesman for Clark County Fire & Rescue, echoed the sentiment. He said that when the winds sweep the region, humidity can drop from its normal range of 50 to 70 percent to as low as 16 percent.

"Right now, people have to be really careful about barbecues, only have recreational campfires in approved areas," Dawdy said. "But once the east wind starts, we want them to stop all that activity."

Even though the warm, dry air hasn't blown consistently through Clark County, Dawdy and Peeler both said that fire danger is high and citizens should remain cautious during their summer activities.

Vancouver recorded no rainfall in July, below the average of 0.69 of an inch for the month, according to the National Weather Service. The first day of August captured the only measurable rain in the month's first 12 days, with 0.04 of an inch. The monthly average rainfall for August in Vancouver is 0.19 of an inch.

Lightning, which caused recent wildfires in the area and was blamed for destroying a $300,000 house in Turner, Ore., is not in the seven-day forecast for the Vancouver area, the National Weather Service reports.

The weather service's forecast for the week shows high temperatures in the low 80s and lows in the high 50s.

On-and-off clouds in the forecast have the potential to be harmful because people tend to lower their guards despite fire danger's remaining high, said Aaron Schmidt, Department of Natural Resources fire operations district manager.

"It's deceptive, in a word," he said. "Folks don't understand why we have a burn ban. … It's still the middle of August; the fire danger is still alive and well."

The burn ban is in effect through Sept. 30.

"My opinion is that people get lulled into a sense of security when they see gray skies, which tends to be problematic," he said. "The fire prevention message is: Be vigilant with any type of open flame."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.