Yakima County burn ban violators could face criminal charges and costly fines

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Fire officials are pleading with the public to take the Yakima County burn ban seriously because the last thing they need is to have to deal with another wildfire.

State and local firefighting resources are already being strained by the more than 5,600-acre Cow Canyon Fire burning northeast of Wenas and the 26,490-acre Vantage Highway Fire burning near Vantage.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources public information officer Ryan Rodruck said if another wildfire starts up, they’ll have to divvy up their resources even more.

“The most helpful thing that the general public can do is respect those burn bans heed those warnings and not put any sparks on the landscape that may draw resources away from those wildland fires,” Rodruck said.

Firefighters can’t avoid having to respond to lightning-struck wildfires because they can’t control the weather. But Rodruck said the bulk of fires are human-caused and are avoidable.

“Up to 90% of wildland fires have some sort of human cause; that could be something as simple as a chain dragging on a highway from a tow trailer,”

Rodruck said wildfires could also be sparked by a target shooting practice gone wrong, a lit cigarette butt tossed aside, an escaped burn pile or a campfire that gets out of control.

“That’s why those burn bans are put in place,” Rodruck said. “The consequences for violating a burn ban can be very serious. There could be fines and penalties for starting campfires during a burn ban or debris piles.”

Burn ban violators could pay a $99 fine if they’re on DNR lands, a minimum of $250 for a violation in Kittitas County and up to $1,000 in Yakima County. They could also be arrested, face criminal charges or even end up behind bars.

However, those are just the penalties for getting caught. If someone is burning debris in their backyard while the burn ban is in effect and the fire gets out of control and spreads into a wildfire, they could end up on the hook for millions of dollars.

“In the state of Washington, people can be held financially and potentially legally liable should they start a wildland fire through neglect or violation of a burn ban,” Rodruck said.

Rodruck said the minimum cost for fighting a wildland fire is usually in the millions, but some of the larger fires can end up costing tens of millions of dollars to put out.

Violators could also face lawsuits for the damage to properties. Rodruck said burning debris or having a campfire during this weather just isn’t worth the risk to yourself, your neighbors or the firefighters trying to protect you.

“It’s more important than ever that people heed these burn bans, make sure that the sparks stay off the landscape and help our local first responders be able to respond timely to fires,” Rodruck said.

It’s already illegal to do outdoor burning within city limits, but the ban on outdoor burning in unincorporated Yakima County will be in effect through Sept. 30.

Anyone wanting to do agricultural field burning or orchard burning should contact the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency at 509-834-2050 to discuss fire safety and suppression measures.

Authorities are encouraging people to report anyone violating the burn ban to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office by calling 509-574-2500.

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