Steigerwald fire contained after burning 140 acres

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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Fire crews remain on the scene today of the Friday night blaze that consumed more than 100 acres at the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge east of Washougal.

Morning light revealed the fast-spreading fire devoured 140 acres of grass, blackberry vines and cottonwood trees, said Becky Escober, dispatch supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.

DNR has two crews from Larch Corrections Center at the scene of the fire, mopping up the area and ensuring all hot spots are out, Escober said. Firefighters will likely remain at the scene for the next couple days, she said.

The fire, which was south of state Highway 14, was reported just before 5 p.m. and quickly spread due to strong easterly winds and the dry conditions. The fire was difficult to fight due to poor access and the swampy nature of the surrounding area.

Firefighters finally brought the blaze under control about midnight Friday. At the time, firefighters estimated the fire burned 100 acres. Daylight, however, revealed the fire had grown even bigger.

Several buildings in the Camas-Washougal Port Industrial area were briefly threatened, but the fire didn’t reach any structures. Nobody was injured in the blaze.

The city of Washougal’s wastewater treatment crews helped avert problems at the plant throughout the night. The fire burned right up to the treatment plant’s lagoons and threatened the small building housing the pump that sends treated water into the river, Mayor Sean Guard said.

The fire caused the treatment plant to lose power Friday evening. Crews got generators up and running and remained at the plant throughout the night to ensure the pump didn’t fail, Guard said. Power was restored to the plant at about noon Saturday, said Erica Erland, spokeswoman for Clark Public Utility.

One power pole was burned to the ground during the fire and another pole continued to burn Saturday morning. Two PUD crews were on the scene Saturday working to restore power to the plant and the one other customer affected by the fire, Erland said.

While battling the blaze, crews came across deer, a bobcat and a cougar, all fleeing the area. Hawks and owls circled above the trees, Guard said.

“Scary time for folks out here,” he said. “Those winds were whipping, that fire was moving fast.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but it appears to have started on the shoulder of Highway 14, which likely points to the careless discarding of a burning or smoldering object by a passing vehicle.

“The fire danger is still high, and we ask everyone to be very cautious and follow the regulations for burning at this time,” Escober said.

Clark County, Vancouver, Camas, Washougal and Cowlitz County have prohibited recreational burning due to the increased fire danger. DNR extended the burn ban on DNR-protected public, private and tribal lands through Oct. 15.

More than 15 fire apparatus assisted in the extinguishment of the fire Friday night, including East County Fire and Rescue, Camas-Washougal Fire Department, Vancouver Fire Department, Skamania County Fire District 4, and DNR.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.