UPDATE: In dry, windy conditions, firefighters are kept hopping to control a flurry of flare-ups

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: October 6, 2012, 8:44 PM

 
Two-alarm brush fire

Saturday’s low humidity and windy weather, coupled with the area’s recent dry stretch, created a perfect storm for firefighters across Clark County.

As crews continued to mop up a Friday-night blaze at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge east of Washougal, new fires popped up throughout Vancouver.

A two-alarm brush fire briefly threatened a shop building and adjacent neighborhood during an afternoon fire that consumed three to five acres in east Vancouver. The fire near the intersection of Northeast 49th Street and 137th Avenue was reported about 2:40 p.m. A second alarm was called in after the first units arrived.

The fire burned in a grassy area at the northwest corner of the intersection. Winds drove the flames toward a subdivision to the west, but firefighters were able to get ahead of the fire and stop it from reaching the homes, said Deputy Chief Dan Olson with the Vancouver Fire Department.

The fire appears to have destroyed a small outbuilding or shed on the property. The shop building, which is larger, didn’t appear to receive any damage, Olson said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Kenneth Quirk of Vancouver was driving north on 137th Avenue when he spotted a fire about four feet wide next to the road. He pulled over and called 911.

The fire spread in the tall grass along the edge of the road. Wind gusts pushed the fire away from the road, he said.

“The wind blew it right into that building,” Quirk said of the shed. “It was fast. It was extremely fast.”

The fire burned past several wire fences and approached a wood fence separating the field from a neighborhood. It also burned up to the traffic circle at the intersection of Northeast 49th Street and 137th Avenue. Heavy smoke blanketed the area as crews fought the fire.

The fire broke out as humidity plummeted in the metro area. By about 3 p.m., humidity had fallen to 10 percent at Pearson Airfield. East winds were steady at 15 mph, gusting to 25 mph.

Those conditions make fire prevention efforts critical, Olson said.

“Be very careful with anything that can ignite a fire,” he said, including cigarette butts and barbecues.

“It’s very important for us as a community to be very fire-safe,” Olson added. “It always is, but right now it’s critical.”

Anticipating the busy day, firefighters had prepared water tenders and engines earlier Saturday, Olson said. By the time crews were called to the grass fire in east Vancouver, they had already responded to two other grass fires that burned over an acre each, he said.

Then, while crews were mopping up the scene in east Vancouver at about 6 p.m., the department was dispatched to yet another grass fire, at 4515 E. 18th St. in central Vancouver.

The high call volume prompted department officials to call in off-duty personnel to help with the workload, Olson 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.