A fire at Point Robinson Park early last week burned much of the driftwood in a 300-foot stretch of beach before firefighters extinguished it.
Days after the fire, the acrid smell of the burnt logs was still strong in the area, just feet from the lighthouse. At the Vashon Park District, Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said that it is typically illegal to remove driftwood from beaches, but she has contacted officials at King County to determine what to do with the burned logs and debris.
“This is why we do not allow fires down at the beach,” she said, referring to the damage left behind.
The cause of the fire was not determined, but park and fire district officials believe it was likely a campfire that burned out of control. Ott-Rocheford noted that the park caretaker had done his job the night before the fire, walking the grounds, ensuring all cars were gone and locking the gates before he went to bed. He was awakened shortly after 2:30 a.m. May 29 by fire vehicles on the scene.
While the park district is waiting for a response from King County about the logs, Ott-Rocheford said she and her colleagues have conflicting thoughts about what to do with them.
“We are struggling with two schools of thought. We want our park to be aesthetically pleasing and would prefer not to have them there,” she said. “Also, they are a testament to not following the rules. This is exactly why we have the (no fires) rule as it is.”
The affected area, with burnt logs covering a wide swath of ground, is “not an inviting” scene, and she said her preference is to haul the logs out, but will wait for word from King County and do what is best for the beach.
“We want to do it right, and we want to do it legally,” she said.
She added that in her five years at the park district, a fire of this size had not occurred on any of the park district properties, and she expressed relief that it was not worse — as it likely would be a few months from now.
“We are infinitely grateful this did not happen in the middle of the summer, with all that dry grass. It would have been serious business,” she said.
At Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, Assistant Chief Bob Larsen said that when the crews arrived, they first worked to protect the lighthouse and then worked to extinguish the fire, a labor intensive process.
“Once the fire gets into driftwood, it is hard to dig out and put out,” he added.
Crews called in extra island responders, until about 10 were on scene, as well as the Tacoma fire boat for additional assistance. There is no available water at the park, and all four of the district’s water tenders were there, with one located on the beach, refilled as needed, while others went for more water.
Like Ott-Rocheford, Larsen noted that it could have been worse had the grass caught fire, but he cautioned that fire conditions are plenty bad already.
“It’s been warm, it’s been windy, and it’s been dry. We have had above-average temperatures all of May,” he said, adding a warning for people who make beach fires. “Make sure your fire is out when you leave. Only water can do that.”
Last week’s fire at Point Robinson was one of about 20 out-of-control or untended campfires the fire department responds to over the course of the year, he said, noting that the most common locations are at KVI and Maury Island Marine Park. Two more brush fires followed last week after the fire at Point Robinson.
Larsen reiterated fire concerns, with summer approaching.
“The fuels are all drying rapidly, and fire danger increases day by day. We put the fire danger signs up to medium today, and if we do not get rains sometime soon, they will be going to high.”