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Fire prevention order issued for wildlife refuges

Due to summer fire conditions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed a complete ban on activities likely to start a fire on refuges in the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Included in the order are the Hanford Reach National Monument and Columbia, Cold Springs, Conboy Lake, McKay Creek, McNary, Toppenish and Umatilla National Wildlife Refuges.

Building any fire, including the use of charcoal briquettes and cooking stoves, is prohibited.

Also banned is smoking outside of an enclosed vehicle and operation of any motor without an approved and working spark arrester. Fireworks are banned year-round.

The 2011 fire season has fortunately not produced many fires so far, officials report. However, excessive vegetation, the current and forecasted dry conditions, and the coming holiday weekend could change that.

"The cool, wet spring has resulted in a heavy fuel load, primarily from cheatgrass and other invasive plants," said Thomas Skinner, a fire management officer with Fish and Wildlife. "As the vegetation dries out, we're going to have the right conditions for large, fast-moving fires that could be hard to control."

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