Tourists hoping to get photographs of a DC-10 airplane on fire duty and area cabin owners were evacuated Saturday from the perimeter of the Columbia Complex of fires in southeast Washington state.
People had gathered outside the fire line, “wanting to get pictures of that plane,” fire spokesman Virgil Mink said. The scattered evacuations came late in the second day the DC-10 was on active fire duty, able to carry as much as 12,000 gallons of fire retardant on one run – eight times as much as anything else.
The area of concern was between local Pioneer Memorial Park and the Umatilla National Forest on the Washington-Oregon border, so far beyond reach of the flames.
“There are a lot of tourists out there,” Mink said. “People like to see what we do.”
The privately owned DC-10 – available at a cost of $26,000 an hour, three hours minimum – can drop a 50-foot swath of retardant on a mile to a mile and a half of forestland, he said.
“You can run through with a drip torch” and burn potential fuels on the edge of the fire to prevent the flames from spreading, leaving behind firefighting gear required when drops cover smaller areas.
By nightfall, the fire had charred 70,000 acres, or nearly 110 square miles, fire spokesman Charlie Armiger said.
The fire was about 10 percent contained, Mink said – mostly in the southeast corner “where the Coppei fire used to be” before four fires, all started by lightning strikes Monday, merged into the Columbia Complex.
In north-central Washington, the Tripod Complex of fires had burned through 135,694 acres, or about 212 square miles, spokesman Greg Thayer said. That blaze was 48 percent contained – up from 45 percent Friday.
Also in northcentral Washington, the Flick Creek and Tinpan fires had each seared more than 5,000 acres, roughly 8 square miles.