Cheney Free Press -

By John McCallum
Managing Editor 

Outdoor burns bring increasing danger

Fire and air quality officials report uptick in recreational and illegal outdoor fires


Last updated 4/8/2021 at 10:55am

SPOKANE COUNTY – Fire protection agencies and regional air-quality officials are concerned about a growing increase in illegal outdoor burning activity in the county.

In a March 31 news release, fire officials say they are seeing an increase in calls reporting possible illegal outdoor burns. Besides the possibility of these burns getting out of control and causing wild or structure fires, there’s also the aspect of health conditions stemming from more smoke in the air — smoke that weather conditions can often work to prevent dissipation.

“In 2020, Spokane Clean Air logged 379 outdoor burning complaints,” Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency Executive Director Scott K. Windsor said. “That was an increase of 21% from the previous year. With the arrival of spring and the nicer weather, we are beginning to see an uptick in smoke complaints again this year.”

Local fire officials agree, noting not only the impacts to the air, but also to fire personnel.

“With the increase of smoke in the air, those with existing lung and heart complications are put at further risk,” Spokane Valley Fire Department Fire Marshal Greg Rogers said. “Equally, first responders and our community are being put at risk with the large number of responses for illegal burning.”

Recreational fires that get out of control are a common cause of wildfires caused by people. Additionally, an individual can be held financially responsible for the cost of fire department response and any property damage caused by a fire they may have inadvertently started.

Officials are asking individuals to “Be Fire Smart” and follow burning requirements:

Only burn clean, dry firewood or manufactured logs

Recreational fires cannot be used for disposal of anything, including natural yard/garden vegetation

Burn 25 feet away from any structure such as a house, garage or fence

Stay near the fire at all times

Have an extinguisher or charged water hose nearby

Fire can be no larger than three feet wide and two feet tall, and

Put out the fire completely when done.

According to a study published in February 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 84 percent of the blazes firefighters were called to fight between 1992 and 2012 were ignited by people. Some common ways that people start fires include discarding cigarettes, leaving campfires unattended and losing control of prescribed burns or crop fires.

“Every spring, Spokane Fire Department sees an increase in calls related to recreational burning in our jurisdiction,” Spokane Fire Department Fire Marshal Lance Dahl said. “Warmer weather provides an opportunity to remind community members that it is never legal to burn yard waste, construction materials or household debris.”

According to the release, recreational fires are currently allowed as long as they follow requirements. Outdoor burning requirements and regulations can be found at the Spokane Clean Air Agency’s website under “Burning.”

John McCallum can be reached at

Author Bio

John McCallum, Managing Editor

John McCallum is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Cheney Free Press for over 20 years. He has received 10 Washington Newspaper Publisher Association awards for journalism and photography, including first place awards for Best Investigative, Best News and back-to-back awards in Best Breaking News categories. He has been serving as editor of the Spokane Valley News Herald since March 2020.

Phone: 509-235-6184
Contact John McCallum


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