Wildfires in Central WA looking better, but thunderstorm possibility on way
The Vantage Fire is now reported to be 90% contained and the Cow Canyon Fire is now 40% contained.
Following an abrupt start to wildfire season last week, with several conflagrations starting across the state, officials say things are looking more promising with Central Washington’s wildfires this week.
After destroying an uninhabited cabin and three outbuildings last week, the 48-square-mile Vantage Highway Fire — which is about the size of Everett — is now 75% contained.
Heather Appelhof, a public information officer with Northwest Incident Management Team 12, said firefighters are optimistic because the Columbia River on the fire’s east side is acting as a natural barrier, and the majority of the fire’s perimeter is “cold.”
“Firefighters go out on the ground … and they’re actually feeling the dirt with their hands, and knowing that it is cold, and that’s how we know the perimeter is secure,” Appelhof explained. “And they will do that mop-up operation several feet into the fire from the fire’s edge to make sure that it is very secure and it isn’t going to go anywhere.”
The fire is burning north of the town of Vantage and is not posing a threat to any residential areas.
Southwest of the Vantage Fire, the Cow Canyon Fire — burning between Naches and Ellensburg — is about 9 square-miles. Evacuations have been downgraded to a Level 1, meaning people should make preparations to leave just in case. Last week, some areas west of Naches had been issued Level 3 evacuation alerts, orders to leave immediately.
While the fire is only 30% contained, Appelhof said it has helped that the state has been able to take crew and firefighting equipment off of Vantage and move it to Cow Canyon. Having enough machinery and firefighters has has been a common theme this fire season, she said.
“The reason why things are looking so positive is, we’ve been very fortunate to have as many resources on this fire as we need. There haven’t been as many fires occurring in our state right now as opposed to last year,” Appelhof said. “Last year, we were — at this point in the season — really hurting for resources. We’ve been so fortunate to have everything that we need, and because of that, we have seen such great success pretty quickly.”
In a briefing on Friday, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said that the mild start to fire season has helped enormously with being able to attack fires quickly and effectively. Since firefighters have not been called out to nearly as many fires so far this year, they are not as tired out and thinly stretched as they were last year. Franz said the state has seen about 300 fires so far this year, most of them small — last year, there were 200 fires in April alone.
East of the mountains, the Williams Lake Fire south of Cheney is about 3 square-miles and 65% contained. The Riparia Fire along the Snake River in Whitman County has been 100% contained.
Appelhof said the goal is to have the Central Washington fires pretty well under control by later this week, when thunderstorms are expected to roll in. Between lightning and strong winds, the fear is that those storms could ignite and spread new wildfires.
“With all the resources we have right now, we’re just taking advantage of that to make good progress before any thunderstorms do come in,” Appelhof said.
For a map of wildfires currently burning in Washington, click here.