Monday, July 19, 2010

Cowiche fire scorches at least 8,500 acres | Yakima Herald-Republic


COWICHE, Wash. -- A brush fire that started early this afternoon in Cowiche Canyon is threatening about 50 homes late this afternoon, fire officials said.

"It’s still burning hot and heavy," Chief Sam Glanzer of Fire District 1 said.

The fire, which originated across from the Cowiche Creek Nursery and then spread, is threatening homes in the West Valley area, Glanzer said.

Glanzer said two helicopters are working to draw water from local orchard reservoirs to douse flames. One retardent plane and multiple bulldozers are also working save the threatened houses.

Multiple agencies, including West Valley, East Valley, Yakima, Naches, Tieton, Highland and Naches Heights, have responded to the scene. Resources from the Department of Natural Resources are also being utilized. 

An estimated 100 firefighters are at the scene.

COWICHE, Wash. -- Off a small gravel road in west Yakima, Dary and Jenny Reed anxiously looked on Sunday, wondering if the flames were ripping through their personal belongings and home of 27 years.

Large plumes of thick gray smoke blotted out the afternoon sun as the couple waited amongst friends for news. A few hours earlier, the couple had evacuated their home on Carvo Road.

As they waited, firefighters from around the Yakima Valley were battling a 8,500-acre blaze near Cowiche that consumed three homes.

"I didn’t think about taking anything out ’cause we see flames on the other side of the hill all the time," said Dary, who was home by himself at the time. His wife, Jenny, was at the CityFest event at State Fair Park when she heard the news.

As of 8 p.m. Sunday, firefighters said 100 area homes were threatened by the five-alarm fire.

Evacuations were ordered for all residents on Yule, Olson and Carvo roads. Officials said homes along Black Hawk, Wakatak, Winchester, Palomino, Mahre and Stone roads and Hillstone Drive could be evacuated as well. More than 100 firefighters were at the scene and an estimated 150 more were expected to respond overnight. 

"We’re like DEFCON 5, man," said West Valley Fire Department Chief Dave Leitch.

Of the three homes that were burned, one was vacant, Leitch said. Three to four outbuildings were also lost. None of the occupants was injured. It’s unclear whether they were home at the time.

Firefighters were using West Valley Fire Station 3 at 14901 Tieton Drive as a command post. Concerned area residents gazed on while firefighters guzzled bottled water and scarfed down pizza before heading back out into the smoke. 

The blaze started as a small brush fire at 2401 Cowiche Mill Road in Cowiche Canyon across from the Cowiche Creek Nursery. Flames were first reported about 2:30 p.m. Heavy winds prompted the fire to travel southwest over the hillside into the West Valley area. Firefighters estimated wind speeds at 20 and 25 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 35 mph.

"It came down that hill pretty fast," Leitch said.

The flames engulfed West Valley fire engine 31 and sent three firefighters to an area hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Shelters were not deployed, but Leitch said the engine is lost.

Neighbors helped Dary Reed evacuate the couple’s horses from the scene. He joked that all he took from their home was his 1994 fully customized Harley Davidson motorcycle, the three horses and his gun collection.

"That’s only because the wife wasn’t there, ’cause I would have got the pictures out," Jenny Reed said. 

"If the house burns down, the divorce will be more expensive than the house," Dary Reed said as he stood next to his motorcycle.

Marlin Lindgren, 57, of Wiley City said he helped Dary Reed round up the horses and his beloved Harley. Since Reed’s truck was being repaired, he had no way to tow his horse trailer.

"We took ’em down the road and put them in a friend’s barn," Lindgren said.

Gary and Doris Brownell, who own Queen B Ranch, a horse ranch on Tieton Drive, said they found two horses running loose near the fire. They rounded the animals up into their trailer, but are unsure who they belong to. Until someone comes forward for the horses, the couple said they’ll house them at their ranch.

Three helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and one federal helicopter out of Wenatchee were at the scene dousing flames with water drawn from a local orchard reservoir. Two heavy tanker planes from Moses Lake were dumping flame retardant on the blaze. Five bulldozers helped to provide structural protection for area homes.

Leitch said that due to the size of the fire, a FEMA request has been made to cover resource expenses. In addition to the units on site, Leitch also said an additional 35 engines would be soon en route. Also, seven strike teams from around the state will be in the area to help this morning. Each team will consist of five engines, a team leader and three to four firefighters.

Flames were visible from the Terrace Heights area after 10 p.m. Sunday.

Richard Andring, public information officer for the West Valley fire department, said the blaze should continue into today, with containment efforts taking another couple days.

Power also was affected for residents in the area. Jan Mitchell, spokeswoman for Pacific Power, said about 23,000 customers lost power at 9:07 p.m. Power was restored at 9:15 p.m. for all but 3,850 Tieton residents.

Mitchell said a transmission line from Union Gap to Pomona was lost, but was unsure what caused it. It is believed to be related to the fire, she said.

Officials said it is unclear what caused the blaze.

• Ryan Ricigliano can be reached at 509-577-7626 or

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