STEVENS COUNTY, Wash.-- Fire crews confirmed Thursday night that someone burning garbage sparked the Lake Spokane wildfire in early July. The Department of Natural Resources launched an investigation into the fire that burned through more than 1,000 acres in eastern Washington.
Authorities said the person responsible for starting the fire could face fines, including the cost incurred to fight the fire, which had reached nearly $1 million.
People living in the area, near the intersection of Highway 291 and Corkscrew Cannon Road, said they were all too familiar with wildfire danger. Stevens County resident, Joseph Beckman, said the area gets way too hot and dry for people to be burning garbage in the summer.
“It makes me angry,” Beckman said. “We have a lot of helpful neighbors out here, but it only takes one person to put everyone’s property at risk.”
Fire Chief Mike Bucy said he frequently catches people illegally burning garbage in rural parts of Stevens County, but cannot always stop them without reinforcement from the sheriff’s office.
“The rules are there,” Bucy explained. “I think there needs to be more of a definitive enforcement capability.”
Bucy said he would like to be able to issue automatic fines, but has to go through the Department of Ecology instead.
“It does put my personnel in a very tough situation because anytime we show up and it’s an illegal burn, it’s going to make the person defensive automatically,” Bucy said.
Beckman and the rest of the community remained on high alert as fire crews worked to get the fire under control.
“You've got to be responsible out here,” he said. “To be honest from the middle of May to October you've got to be worried about everyone else out here too.”