Ocean Shores firefighters put brakes on nascent grass fire

The fire took minutes to knock down, but could have gotten much worse

The Ocean Shores Fire Department took down a grass fire on Ponderosa Loop on Tuesday before it could segue into a structure fire.

The call of a brush fire threatening a home came in after noon, said Fire Chief Brian Ritter.

“It was at 12:39 p.m. yesterday. Brush fire on the lot next door spreading rapidly, becoming uncontrollable. The fire was getting really close to the house,” Ritter said. “When we go to these wildfires, we do, for a lack of a better term, triage. We hit the structure with water and then attacked the fire.”

Vegetation close to structures, especially with the dangerously dry conditions across the county, can provide a conduit for the flames to travel, Ritter said. Six members of the department responded to the call.

“That was a close one, but we were able to get it licked pretty darn quick,” Ritter said. “We have a lot of interface in our city. We have a lot of overgrown shrubs or shrubs running right up to the house.”

The ostensibly damp air does not provide any protection against the wind-driven flames, Ritter said.

“We get that fog rolling in in the morning or a little rain and people think it’s safe to burn again,” Ritter said. “Especially on the coast, people think it’s always damp here.”

Wind can blow the flames through the highly combustible wax myrtles and pine trees, carrying destruction with the steady onshore breeze, Ritter said.

“We’re getting some pretty good winds here,” Ritter said. “It feeds the fire. Fire travels as fast as wind blows. If you have winds at 20 mph sustained, the fire travels at 20 mph.”

Hotter, drier summers have been a growing issue for Ocean Shores and the county over the last five or six years, Ritter said. Dry summers can take a minor grass fire and turn it into an inferno in little time.

“We’ve all seen the fires in California, city blocks getting taken out,” Ritter said. “That potential is everywhere here. This side of the state is super dry.”

The National Fire Protection Association, a fire prevention organization, has an online guide called Firewise to clearing firebreaks around one’s home, with clear distances and heights of vegetation that can be trimmed to substantially reduce risk of wind-driven fire adding one’s structure to the conflagration.

For Ritter, the fire which nearly blossomed out of control underlines the necessity of the burn ban in effect in Ocean Shores and across the county. No campfires, no brush burning, no land clearing and no weed burners are permitted, Ritter said, though propane grills are fine.

“No burning. No burning. No burning!” Ritter said. “And that’s why.”

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@thedailyworld.com.