How Red Flag Warning set up perfect storm for fire danger over 4th of July holiday

BONNEY LAKE, Wash. — Critical fire weather conditions around the South Sound and western slopes of the Cascades are what prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Red Flag Warning this Fourth of July.

Low relative humidity (15-20%), warm temperatures (upper 80s, lower 90s), dry vegetation, and winds (10-15 miles an hour sustained) are all conditions fit to start and sustain a devastating fire. Add fireworks and other fire-based activities to the mix and it’s a recipe for even more danger.

Just this week, Bonney Lake has responded to a handful of firework related calls. That included one grass fire Tuesday night, and although it’s not confirmed, it was believed to be the result of fireworks.

Just a few hours later down the road in the Falling Waters neighborhood, several East Pierce County Fire and Rescue crews responded to a small fire they say was caused by fireworks being set off in the neighborhood.

Before the Red Flag Warning was even issued, we’re told East Pierce Fire and Rescue anticipated problems because of the holiday. To prepare, they upped staffing by adding an extra medical unit and another staffed brush truck to help with the treatment of fires in wildland or wildland-urban interface areas. Brush trucks are smaller than their big rig counterparts, but they play a big role when it comes to fighting fires in hard to reach or uneven terrain.

With Washington’s vast microclimates, ever-changing forecasts also present another layer of challenges for firefighters especially those with East Pierce Fire and Rescue. Their territory covers everything from residential neighborhoods to the outskirts of National Parks. That has them following local forecasts and weather threats closely.

“Just being hot in and of itself isn’t necessarily the worst thing but when you have low humidity, and you have high winds that’s when the potential for those fires to grow very big,” said Lieutenant Tim Jewitt, East Pierce Fire and Rescue 3520.