Wind power, fire power in Yakima Valley

Wind power, firepower in Yakima Valley

13 November 2007

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USA — Weather-related problems mounted Monday in theYakima Valley with at least two of the four elements that make up the 1990scartoon character Captain Planet: wind and fire.

The path of downed trees and power lines flowed through the Yakima Valley,starting in the afternoon as wind gusts reached 43 miles per hour in Yakima. Theweather system even dropped a mix of light snow and rain near Snoqualmie Pass –the first snow of the season — causing holiday traffic to slow on Interstate90.

High winds were believed to be the cause of a brush fire in the 1800 block ofNorth Camas Road in Wapato that started around 3:30 p.m. Firefighters fromYakima County Fire District No. 5 discovered winds had broken off a tree limbthat hit a power line, causing the lines to hit the ground and spark a fire.

Flames quickly spread into thick brush, consuming about 10 acres. It took 30firefighters from five agencies about two hours to control and extinguish theblaze.

A mixture of ashes from a wood stove and high evening winds caused a firethat displaced a family in the 700 block of North 15th Avenue in Yakima.

Though fire crews were still investigating the official cause Monday evening,Battalion Chief Mitch Cole of the Yakima Fire Department said witnesses reportedseeing embers blowing in the wind and onto the roof of the house shortly before5:30 p.m.

Flames damaged some electrical wiring in the house, but Cole said crews wereable to contain the fire to the attic. The fire is estimated to have causedabout $25,000 in damage.

The residents who lived in the house planned to stay with nearby familymembers.

Fire wasn’t the lone byproduct of Monday’s high winds.

Combined with dust, the high winds caused limited visibility for motoriststraveling several area highways through the afternoon and evening.

A tractor-trailer truck loaded with fertilizer rolled over at milepost 44 ofHighway 97, south of Toppenish. None of the fertilizer leaked after the crash.Ed Mc-Avoy, a spokesman for Washington State Patrol, said visibility was down tozero along a stretch of the highway.

Although an official cause of the accident was still under investigationMonday night, Mc-Avoy said chances are wind and visibility were factors.

McAvoy suggested motorists stop and pull off the road before entering areaswhere visibility is limited to the point that it impairs driving.

“A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t see through it, don’t goin,” he said.

Blowing dust also caused visibility problems along State Route 240 and StateRoute 24 in the Hanford area. The hazardous conditions near Hanford forcedworkers to be released from work at 2:30 p.m.

The winds also caused a few power failures throughout the Valley. About 1,600Pacific Power customers in Zillah and Toppenish were without electricity forabout an hour. Power for those customers was restored shortly before 2 p.m.About an hour later, 544 customers in Wapato were without power for about anhour, according to Jan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Pacific Power.

A traffic light at Highway 97 and Highway 97 near Parker was out for about anhour, starting about 2:30 p.m.

Mitchell said about 21 customers near Wapato remained without power Mondaynight as crews worked to restore electricity by morning.

It appears the worst has passed.

Winds were expected to settle between 5 and 8 miles per hour today.

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