July 24, 2008

Mid-Columbia Crews Keep Blazes in Check

By Paula Horton, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Jul. 24--Fire crews in the Tri-Cities have been busy -- and lucky. They've been able to quickly control wildfires in the region.

Tuesday was no different for Benton County crews who battled small fires along Johns Road in north Richland, Canal Drive in Kennewick and a blaze that burned several hundred acres near Coffin Road, south of Kennewick.

With strong winds in the area throughout the night, "it had all the potential" to turn into a big fire, Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes said.

"We were really lucky, most of them were kind of contained quickly," he said. "It was just one of those day, but we hit it hard and got free of it."

The State Fire Marshal's Office had called Benton County to see if it could spare some firefighters to send a strike team to help battle a wildfire in Grant County, but Baynes and Benton Fire District 1 Chief Bob Gear "made the smart decision" to keep crews in town, just in case, Baynes said.

"It's the season," he said. "We were watching and fire what was coming out of the Yakima firing center as well and checked with Hanford to make sure they were OK. We were also keeping an ear out for a fourth-alarm (wildfire) in Walla Walla.

"But we had a cool evening, which really helped a lot," Baynes added. "It's just that time of year."

Two strike teams -- firefighters pulled from all Benton County agencies -- along with Fire District 1 crews were used to control the Coffin Road fire.

Benton County was going to pull a strike team together Wednesday to help in Grant County but the fire was expected to be fully contained by the evening.

The wildfire burned about 1,700 acres in Douglas and Grant counties near Trinidad, about eight miles west of Quincy.

More than 50 fire rigs from 18 agencies in Douglas, Grant and Chelan counties responded, Grant County Undersheriff John Turley said.

About 20 homes were evacuated on a hill north of Highway 28, just west of Stuhlmiller Road. About 10 people took shelter overnight at Quincy High School, he said. Several hundred residents and vacationers who couldn't get out of the Crescent Bar area were evacuated to the south island of Crescent Bar.

The Washington State Patrol and State Fire Marshal's Office took control of the fire scene early Wednesday.

Evacuation orders were lifted by Wednesday afternoon and the 150 firefighters assigned to battle the blaze were expected to be demobilized by this morning.

To reduce the risk of wildfires in the Umatilla National Forest, restrictions on campfires, smoking and off-road travel will go into effect today.

Hot, dry weather have made the restrictions necessary, forest officials said.

For specific restrictions, call a toll-free message line at 877-958-9663 or visit www.fs. fed.us/r6/uma. For more information, call the Umatilla National Forest office at 541-278-3722.

Forest officials anticipate additional restrictions could go into effect as early as next week.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

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