Aerial attack helps check wildfire

Aerial attack helps check wildfire
Aerial attacks by state and federal agencies helped check the Left Hand Fire near Yakima as firefighters struggled to traverse the steep terrain. Photo: Incident Information System

As the intensity of this year’s wildfire season tapers, aerial attacks by state and federal agencies were able to check a fire that broke out on Forest Service forestland in central Washington. Although the blaze is only 26 percent contained and triggered evacuation notices, an incident spokesperson says the swift aerial response to the Left Hand Fire near Naches likely reduced its severity.

So far, the Left Hand Fire has consumed more than 2,500 acres and involved more than 500 firefighters. The fire started on the morning of July 23 when a lightning strike occurred on forestland 32 miles northwest of Yakima. Although firefighters responded, the steep terrain made it difficult for them to access. That same day, state and federal agencies deployed three helicopters, followed by four helicopters the following day. As firefighters finally reached the fire and had initial success, burning material was able to cross the fireline and ignited other fuels. As of now, the wildfire is estimated to cost $4 million.

Public Information Officer Nick Digiacco told Lens that the aerial attacks likely prevented the wildfire from causing more damage by keeping it from grass and brush fuels that cause flames to spread quickly.

In a July 30 video update, Incident Commander Eric Knerr made a similar conclusion, saying the air units “allowed us the opportunity to get crews (and) boots on the ground. They’ve made really good progress. The crews and operation folks have done a tremendous job out there.”

Now, fire personnel are working to carve out a fireline protecting nearby residential areas. Already, Level 3 evacuation notices have been issued for 26 homes, while 270 residences have received Level 2 evacuation notices. Several forest service roads have been closed, while Highway 410 remains open.

The Left Hand Fire is the largest active wildfire in Washington state. The Desert Canyon Fire in Douglas is now fully contained after burning 1,467 acres, as is the Graham Fire near Interstate 90 in eastern Washington which burned 171 acres.

The Devore Creek Fire near the northern tip of Lake Chelan has burned 150 acres of heavy timber, and due to its high elevation at 8,000 feet responders have had difficulty containing it. It is possible the fire will extend into the fall or winter.

Currently, DNR has responded to 1200 wildfires, 70 percent of them located on the east side of the Cascades.

In a July 30 video update, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz noted: “we’ve been able to keep most of those fires small. We’ve been blessed by a lot of rain and overcast skies in July, which has helped.”



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