Wildfires hit Washington communities

Wildfires hit Washington communities
The small community of Vantage in Central Washington has already faced two level-three evacuations this season due to wildfires. Washington firefighters have yet to contain the Ryegrass Coulee Fire that has burned over 1,000 acres. Photo: State Department of Natural Resources.

In less than a month, two wildfires have threatened a small Central Washington community and prompted level three evacuations for all residents as 250 Washington fire personnel fight to contain the flames.

As of Tuesday, the Ryegrass Coulee Fire has burned over 1,000 acres and temporarily shut down both lanes of Interstate-90 between Vantage and the city of Ellensburg. All of the estimated 74 residents have been evacuated. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

So far this season, there have been 616 fires that have burned 25,769 acres.

Preceding Ryegrass Coulee was the Milepost 22 Fire that started June 20 west of Wanapum Lake on the Columbia River at Vantage. The wildfire ultimately burned 7,500 acres, forcing an all-out evacuation of the town until firefighters were able to fully contain it on June 24.

However, the state Department of Natural Resources reports that although I-90 is now open to traffic, workers have yet to contain any of the Ryegrass Coulee Fire, which mainly consumed brush and grass. The Wanapum Recreation Area and Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park have been closed indefinitely due to fires.

To augment local fire districts such as Kittitas County Fire District 4 that is already fighting Ryegrass Coulee, the Washington State Fire Services Resource Mobilization Plan was activated Tuesday deploying state fire assistance.

Meanwhile, over 400 firefighters are combating the Little Camas Fire near the city of Cashmere, which has burned over 300 acres. The Incident Information System reports that more than 50 percent of the fire has been contained, despite strong winds. A third wildfire has been almost fully contained in southeastern Washington after burning 228 acres.

In mid-June 50 residents of a small Central Washington community near Soap Lake were forced to evacuate as firefighters from Grant County Fire District 7 made the initial response to a fast-spreading wildfire due to strong winds. The wildfire burned 2,063 acres of grass, sage and brush, though local, state and federal firefighters were able to save threatened homes and outbuildings.

The Northwest Coordination Center’s seven-day outlook shows normal wildfire conditions, with a few days of elevated conditions for parts of eastern and southeast Washington.

In its latest monthly outlook for July 2, the Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center reports drier than normal conditions in Washington state, with little snowpack remaining except along the Canadian border. The center also reports that a drought throughout most of Oregon has extended up into parts of western and central Washington. However, the drought period in those areas isn’t expected to last through September.

DNR Spokesperson Joe Smillie told Lens that despite the ongoing fires “we have some reserves and we keep some stationed around for that purpose (predeployment). With this (Ryegrass Coulee Fire) we had to throw a lot at it right away.”

He added that the state agency is preparing with the drought conditions in mind.

“The weather is cooling down a bit but the fuel loads are really starting to dry up,” he said. “The grass has been really dry and we’re starting to see that in the forest. That’s where things get a little hairier.”

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