It only takes a spark to get a fire going

Fire crews fought brush fires along Viking Way earlier this week. - Courtesy Photo
Fire crews fought brush fires along Viking Way earlier this week.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Brush fires a threat from which to keep

a “defensible” distance.

NORTH END — It didn’t take long Tuesday morning for four different brush fires to catch blaze in Poulsbo, calling in crews from three local agencies to battle the flames.

Poulsbo, Central Kitsap and Navy Region Northwest fire department units headed off the heat within 10 minutes of arriving on scene. All four fires, investigated by the Kitsap County Fire Marshal, were started on the west side of Viking Way, threatening two nearby homes.

Though it was a quickly quelled sizzle, area officials say brush fires are still serious business. Despite Kitsap’s wealth of rain, the incidents aren’t uncommon, and are usually preventable by a little extra human attention.

“Most (brush fires) in this area are not from natural causes,” said PFD Battalion Chief Jim Gillard. “Almost all of ours are due to human activity.”

With this weekend’s forecasted high temperature warnings, Michele Laboda, North Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s spokesperson, warns residents to take extra care.

“We remind everyone there is no outdoor burning and to refrain from throwing anything on fire on the ground or out of cars,” Laboda said, adding concerns of cigarette butts, Friday night beach fires and even hot exhaust from vehicles, lawn mowers and other heavy equipment.

“Heated exhaust can touch dry grass and start a flame,” she said.

Unlike Eastern Washington, which suffers from hazards of a dryer climate, here inappropriate and careless burning — including that of prohibited materials like plastics — near natural vegetative areas is a concoction for trouble, one partially leading to burn bans going into effect, said Gillard. This year, the Poulsbo Fire Department has seen 27 of the type, and rarely do they occur when all precautions have been taken, Gillard added.

Laboda said though this summer has had fewer fires so far in the North End, it is important to stay wary.

“It seems that it’s been a quieter summer for brush fires for us but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have the most dangerous one tomorrow with the right fire source. It’s dry out there,” she said, adding that although Washington sees more rain than California, the same potential for a catastrophic wildland fire exists here.

Many brush fires are caused by the start of land-clearing burns; second on the culprit list are fireworks. Gillard said people have a tendency to assume a day or two of rain provides extra protection for the starting of planned fires, but that doesn’t actually reduce the risk.

In a prepared statement Poulsbo Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Thomas O’Donohue offered a reminder of the dangers of fighting fires without the proper protective gear — particularly uphill from a fire where it can travel at an alarming speed.

According to the Poulsbo Fire Department, several residents were out with garden hoses to extinguish the fires before crews arrived Tuesday.

“The best protection is building what the fire department calls a ‘defensible space’ with little or no vegetation that readily burns,” O’Donohue said.  

To create a defensible space, a 30- to 100-foot buffer should form a safety zone around a home; dead vegetation should be removed, continuous vegetation should be broken up and grass should be mowed on a regular basis.

The Department of Natural Resources offers more information on defensible spaces at

Gillard added while quick response to a fire can help, people need to keep their priorities straight when faced with the danger before stepping into action.

“They need to remember that their life and the safety of people is more important than anything,” he said.

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