Rash of wildfires may be human-caused
Several wildfires that ignited on July 4 are being treated as suspicious and potentially human-caused, the Grant County Fire Marshal’s Office reported on Tuesday.
The fires, called the Hills Fire, started in isolated areas, said Bruce Gribble, chief deputy fire marshal. His office is investigating reports of a suspicious vehicle seen along Baird Springs Road before or during the fires, Gribble said.
The fire marshal’s office also is looking at whether the recent wildfires and a rash of haystack fires in April are related, Gribble added.
Five haystack fires were intentionally set between April 1 and April 12. All occurred between about midnight and 3 a.m. The loss was estimated at $400,000, Gribble said in April.
“I think that is one of the aspects that we need to look at,” he said of the potential connection.
On Wednesday, the Hills Fire was contained. While the incident was originally reported as a 5,000-acre wildfire, an assessment of the fire puts that acreage at 1,796.
A privately owned scale house was reported damaged in the fires; however, no homes were damaged and no one was injured, reported the Southeast Washington Incident Management Team.
The Hills Fire was the second time in less than a week that Quincy residents living along portions of Monument Hill were forced to evacuate their homes because of fast-moving wildfires. A 2,100-acre fire called the Monument Hill Fire started around 11 p.m. on June 30. About 24 homes were evacuated then.
The Hills Fire started at about 11:45 p.m. on July 4. Fifteen homes were evacuated. Level 3 evacuations, which order residents to leave their homes immediately, were given to homes in the areas of Baird Springs Road and Road Q Northwest, Road P and Road 13 Northwest, and Road 12 and Road U Northwest. Those evacuation orders were lifted by 7 a.m. on July 5.
Local fire officials also made a request for assistance to the Washington State Fire Resource Mobilization Plan. That request, also the second made within a week, was approved shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday.
The Hills Fire consisted of four separate fires that burned westward across Monument Hill, about 3 miles north of Quincy. Early Sunday morning two of the fires were out. One of those fires is suspected to be a flare-up from the Monument Hill Fire.
Also that evening, some 8,400 homes in north Quincy, Ephrata and Soap Lake were without power. A power outage was reported at 11 p.m., and Grant PUD was able to get power fully restored to Quincy users by 3:30 a.m., said Chuck Allen, PUD spokesman. Allen said the fire and power outage were coincidental.
The power outage occurred along a line that runs 35 miles from the utility’s Columbia Substation in Douglas County to its Rocky Forge Substation on Highway 17 between Ephrata and Moses Lake. The gusty winds Saturday evening likely caused those lines to whip back and forth, Allen said. When those lines touch, a fault occurs in the line, causing an outage, he explained.
Early Wednesday, there were about 74 firefighters still on the Hills Fire scene. Some residual smoke could be seen coming from the fire area. The smoke seen is not from active fire, but from piles of manure that are smoldering, the state incident management team reported.
Keevin Schulz, who has lived on Monument Hill for 35 years, said wildfires have been an issue for homeowners there for the past five years. Watching three staggered fires along the hill that night led him to believe the fires were intentionally set, he said.
“We’re on high level alert up here now,” he said.
Schulz also warned his neighbors to prepare for any more wildfires that may come yet this summer. He has a tractor with a disc hooked to it on standby as well as a strong fire line built around his home.
“If you choose to live in this environment, you better have the tools to protect yourself,” Schulz said.
Gribble said investigators have a “long way to go” to determine just how the fires started. The cause of wildfires in areas of cheatgrass and sagebrush are typically more difficult to determine than wooded areas because little evidence is left behind, he said.
“Somebody out there knows something,” Gribble said.
Anyone with information about the fires can contact the sheriff’s office at email@example.com or 762-1160.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org