(The Center Square) – Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency relating to the risk of wildfires on Wednesday.
The proclamation, issued on Tuesday, bans outdoor and agricultural burning statewide through Sept. 30, 2021. The ban complements an existing ban on outdoor burning on public lands issued by the state's Public Lands Commissioner, Hilary Franz.
In May, 7,242 fires, the eighth-most since 2000, burned 223,298 acres nationwide. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, each fire averaged 30.8 acres, the eleventh highest on record. Since January, the nation has seen 24,835 fires burn 680,436 acres, with each fire averaging 27.4 acres.
So far this year, Washington has seen 630 fires erupt statewide or about double the state's 10-year average. Two major fires are burning in Washington's Douglas and Spokane Counties–the Batterman Fire and the Andrus Fire.
The Batterman Fire, with began July 4 and grown to 7,900 acres, was 10% contained on Wednesday. Level 3 "Go Now" evacuations remain in effect for the area, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported.
The Andrus Fire is 20% contained as of Tuesday, DNR officials reported. At least 188 firefighters remain active on the scene.
Washington has lost more than 25,000 acres to wildfires in 2021, the least of any state on the West Coast. By comparison, neighboring Oregon and Idaho have nine major active fires. California, Arizona and Alaska have 24 major fires averaging 1,000 acres or more combined, the National Interagency Coordination Center reports.
Inslee said on Wednesday his proclamation is a proactive step to help the state prevent costly fires like those seen in 2020.
"We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent wildfires, and the loss of life and destruction of land and property that comes with them," Inslee said. "I urge everyone to do their part to help protect our beautiful state and all our communities."
Inslee's proclamation exempts the use of gas-fueled stoves and charcoal grills so long as they are five feet away from vegetation. Small campfires in contained structures on private property are also exempt. Cities and counties are free to set their own rules. That includes fireworks permits.
The proclamation also permits the governor to activate the Washington National Guard to assist in firefighting efforts. Thousands of National Guard members were summoned last year to fight wildfires on the West Coast. Washington called 140 National Guard members into action in 2020.
The 2020 wildfire season was one of the most destructive in Washington's history, killing one child and burning more acres than 2018 and 2019 combined. It scorched 713,000 acres and burned 181 homes, the DNR reported.