Blaze near White Salmon imperils homes

Hundreds might have to be evacuated; 1,500 acres burned

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Crews on Thursday continued to fight the blaze that threatens hundreds of houses and charred 1,200 acres of land north of White Salmon.

The Highway 141 fire started at midday Wednesday and had burned about 2 square miles of heavy timber and grass, said Mary Bean, spokeswoman for the firefighting effort. The fire is anchored to state Highway 141 and is burning a few miles south of Husum. Bonneville Power Administration power lines and natural gas pipelines are in the area, Bean said. Some power lines have been shut down so firefighters can safely work near them.

The fire was 10 percent contained Thursday night, officials said.

No structures have been destroyed or damaged, and no injuries have been reported. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Residents of 35 houses have been told to leave and those in an additional 400 houses have been warned they may need to leave on a moment’s notice, said Debbie Robinson, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. A Red Cross evacuation center opened at the White Salmon Fire Station, 119 N.E. Church St. However, only a handful of people have come to the evacuation center. Fire managers organized a community meeting for 10 a.m. Saturday in Columbia High School’s gymnasium in White Salmon.

About 250 firefighters, including 60 inmate crew members, were working to contain the blaze. Officials are concerned that temperatures in the 90s, combined with forecasted afternoon winds, could cause the fire to spread rapidly.

As the day heats up, the fire burns more actively, said Chuck Turley, spokesman with the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ incident management team stationed at the Port of Klickitat in Bingen.

“Until the weather changes, that dryness is going to continue to be a concern,” he said. “And wind is always going to be a concern.”

The fire is burning through an area with steep terrain, so there’s potential for rolling material, Turley said. Ground crews also have to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and large amounts of poison oak while they battle the fire.

The Southwest Tree Farm in Cowlitz County and Columbia Tree Farm in Clark County, owned by Longview Timberlands LLC, were closed to the public Thursday because of the fire, according to a bulletin from general manager Chris Lipton.

He said Longview foresters will close gates and post closure notices at timberlands entry points this week, as well as increase woods security patrols. The closure affects approximately 54,587 acres of forestlands.

Highway 141 is open but with speeds reduced to 35 mph between mileposts 5 and 7, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Abbi Russel. She estimated about 3,400 cars drive through this stretch of Highway 141 each day.

Highway 141 runs through Trout Lake, a popular tourism spot for people heading to Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that 75 percent of state firefighting costs will be funded by a Fire Management Assistance Grant.