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Posted on Aug 20, 2015

Fire season leaves I-90 travelers in the dust

GEORGE — What did Lt. David Durfee of Grant County Fire District No. 3 see when he pulled up to the scene of last week’s dust storm on I-90?
“Nothing,” Durfee said. “That was the problem.”
Local emergency responders were called to a three-car collision late Friday afternoon on I-90. The collision was apparently caused by a massive dust storm that closed the interstate for six hours from George to just east of Vantage.
The state Department of Transportation was reporting “zero visibility” when it announced the interstate’s closure at 4:30 p.m. Jeff Adamson, DOT spokesman, said the highway remained closed until nearly 11 p.m., while crews plowed sand off 10 miles of the route in both directions.
The three-car collision happened about six miles west of George. The three vehicles involved were all westbound on I-90. When driver Kyle R. Stanfill, 20, of Osborn, Kan., slowed down because of the low visibility, he was struck from behind by not one but two other vehicles, according to a press release from the Washington State Patrol.
The drivers of the two vehicles that struck Stanfill were cited for driving too fast for the conditions, WSP reported.
Five people involved in the accident were transported by Protection I ambulance service to Quincy Valley Medical Center. All had minor injuries, Durfee said.
Just getting to the injured was difficult, Durfee said.
“We had to get through two miles of stopped vehicles before we could get to the scene,” he said.
The state patrol had to escort some drivers off the interstate, leading them back around to Silica Road, because of the poor visibility, Durfee said. Dirt covered emergency vehicles and responders found themselves with a mouthful of dust if they opened their mouths, he said.
“It was a blackout of dust,” he said.
The accident was caused by high winds and wind gusts that blew dust from scorched lands burned in a 1,450-acre wildfire on July 19 south of George. The burned area has no ground cover, Durfee explained.
In fact, the interstate was closed briefly in the days after the fire because of blowing dust; last week was the second time in a month that the interstate has been closed because of the blowing dust in that area.
There’s a possibility that the area could see another dust storm if high winds roll in again, Durfee warned.
“Until we get some ground cover on that land out there, it’s just going to blow dust,” he said.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,