Washington state’s first major wildfire of the season has broken out in Grant County grassland area near the Columbia Basin in central Washington, prompting evacuations notices to some residents. So far the 243 Fire has consumed 19,000 acres and is now being fought by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Typically this time of year this is what we get…in the Columbia basin,” DNR Southeast Region Manager Todd Welker said in a Facebook video. “The fires burn very fast.”
The 243 Fire first broke out on June 3 near Highway 243 and Wanapum Dam and later spread through the Lower Crab Creek Canyon due to wind. The next day, an evacuation 3 notice was put out for residents in the unincorporated community of Smyrna. Residents in the communities of Beverly and Mattawa temporarily lost power before it was restored by Grant PUD. In response, DNR has deployed four aerial units, 20 firefighters and two strike team engines.
According to the latest update, fire crews have been able to keep the fire in the canyon, and so far have managed to contain 25 percent of the blaze.
Welker noted that fuel loads and strong winds contributed to the wildfire’s speed. In a single day, it burned 18,000 acres. “That’s not untypical for this time of year and these types of fuel conditions. When the wind’s blowing that fast, they get that big. Typically, our only tactic is to hit it on the side and try to pinch a fire off as the wind dies down.”
For now the winds have died down, and National Weather Service Seattle anticipates cooler temperatures for the rest of the week. Also, smoke from the wildfire isn’t expected to cause problems as several did last year. If the wind patterns hold up, Welker anticipates containment should take a few more days.
In addition to some recreational areas, the wildfire has also impacted farm and agricultural lands. A house bill introduced this session would have allowed private landowners to create rangeland fire protection associations (RFPAs) to fight alongside public agencies, a practice already allowed in Oregon and Idaho. HB 1888 cleared the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources, but failed to advance from the Appropriations Committee. The bill’s supporters included the Audubon Society, DNR and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. A similar bill was introduced in 2018 via HB 2562.