Crews try to keep brush fires from spreading

Crews try to keep brush fires from spreading

23 August 2009

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USA — A 40,000-acre brush and grass fire destroyed a country cafe and kept more than 250 firefighters scrambling Saturday in western Benton and Yakima counties to contain its spread as a state incident management team assumed command of firefighting efforts.

Firefighters contained three other Benton County fires by late Friday or early Saturday, and stopped the Blackrock Fire from sweeping into a drainage on Rattlesnake Mountain that could have carried it into the northern part of Benton City, according to Benton County Emergency Services.

Firefighters from throughout Washington and Oregon, who were aided by two helicopters dumping water and two aircraft dropping retardant, also coped with winds that gusted up to 17 mph, said Elizabeth Smith, spokeswoman for Benton County Emergency Services.

No serious injuries were reported and no other structures were reported to be immediately threatened from the fire, which was zero percent contained Saturday. Firefighters were concentrating their efforts Saturday on the south and west side of Rattlesnake Mountain.

Command of the Dry Creek Complex Fire shifted Saturday evening to a state Type II incident management team that established its command post and fire camp for firefighters at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory complex in Richland.

Driven by 40 mph winds, the Blackrock and Midway fires merged late Friday. And the fire kept firefighters on edge late Friday and early Saturday when it neared a drainage on Rattlesnake Mountain that could have taken wind-driven flames into the northern edge of Benton City.

“They (firefighters) made a pretty heroic effort to where we caught up to it and stopped it,” said Bob Spencer, manager of Benton County Emergency Services.

But the little Silver Dollar Cafe, near the intersection of highways 24 and 241 in Yakima County, was destroyed by flames at 6 p.m. Friday, Smith said.

Martha J. Lounsbury of Yakima is listed as an owner, according to Washington Department of Licensing records. She could not immediately be reached for comment, but Smith described her as distraught.

The Washington Department of Transportation said it plans to keep Highway 24 closed between Moxee and the junction of Highway 240 because of the potential hazard of flare-ups. Highway 241 between Sunnyside and Hanford is closed indefinitely because fire destroyed an old timber bridge that crosses Dry Creek on Highway 241 near Wautoma Road.

Lightning sparked the Dry Creek Complex Fire and a series of others late Thursday, including blazes that burned more than 2,000 acres of brush and grass in Grant County.

Firefighters contained two lightning-sparked blazes late Friday on the Hanford nuclear reservation, including one that erupted on Gable Mountain. Another fire in south Kennewick burned 1,000 acres and created a thick smoke plume over the Tri-Cities late Friday before it was contained. The cause of that fire was not known, Smith said.

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