Two-alarm fire burns nearly two acres in Orchards

Firefighters enjoy help from bystanders, luck in avoiding apartments, chemicals

By Craig Brown, Columbian Metro Editor , Mark Bowder, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor and Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Residents of Prairie View Apartments watch from a broken-down fence as firefighters work to extinguish the blaze.

A firefighter works to extinguish a fast-moving fire Tuesday afternoon near the Prairie View Apartments.

A two-alarm fire that started in some tinder-dry grass burned nearly two acres Tuesday afternoon in a lot adjacent to an Orchards apartment complex.

The fire was originally reported as a small grass fire just before 4 p.m. near the Prairie View Apartments at 12611 N.E. 99th St. However, as the first engine approached the fire, firefighters saw such large columns of black smoke they upgraded the blaze to a full first-alarm fire and called for additional units.

“It got way bigger really quickly,” said Dave James, spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department.

When the first crew arrived, they found some people spraying water on embers that had flown to the roof of a neighboring commercial building on Northeast 95th Street. Firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to Prairie View, but wind gusts blew the fire south toward the commercial buildings.

James said it was fortunate the fire spread toward the fire-resistant concrete commercial buildings, rather than toward the apartment complex. If embers had spread to the decks and overhangs of the apartments, the fire could have gotten out of hand.

Ten bystanders helped lay out a fire engine’s 300-foot hose line, so firefighters could attack the blaze from Northeast 95th Street, said Capt. Kevin Murray with the Vancouver Fire Department. Another engine company battled the fire from the Prairie View parking lot, while brush rigs accessed the fire from Northeast 130th Avenue.

“It’s nice that folks jumped in to help out,” Murray said.

With 600 gallons of water pumping through the hose lines each minute, firefighters tried to contain the fire along the perimeter and also worked to put out a roof fire that sparked at 12706 N.E. 95th St. Several deciduous and evergreen trees went up in flames. At one point, juniper bushes next to the commercial buildings flared up, causing the Vancouver Fire Department to call in a second alarm at 4:20 p.m., bringing units from Fire District 3 and Clark County Fire & Rescue.

The 33 firefighters on scene got the fire under control by 4:40 p.m. after it had burned nearly two acres of dry grass and trees, along with a small, abandoned shed. James said there were barrels with chemicals stored behind the commercial buildings, but these did not catch fire.

As the danger of rapid spread eased, crews began checking roofs at Prairie View and at some of the commercial buildings to look for damage from flying embers and see if anything was still smoldering. One roof had minor damage while the rest were unscathed. Firefighters found only light smoke damage to the interiors of the buildings.

There were no reports of any injuries.

The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating this fire and has not yet determined a cause. However, it’s likely they will not determine a cause because the fire was so big and spread so quickly, James said.

The grass fire danger is extreme this week, as a long dry season and above-normal temperatures persist throughout the region. It was 86 degrees in Vancouver at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Even though there’s moisture at night, the dry east winds and hot daytime temperature dries all the fuels out very quickly,” James said.

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