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Aug. 18, 2022

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Two merging fires burn 20 acres on Highway 12 near Wallula

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Merging wildland fires on U.S. Highway 12 near the Wallula paper mill on Wednesday evening, June 22, busied multiple jurisdictions for several hours.

Witnesses reported seeing smoke by the train tracks along the Columbia River there about 5:45 p.m. after a train passed through.

Two fires combined into one that burned about 20 acres along the highway before crews from Walla Walla County Fire District 5, Franklin County Fire District 3, Pasco Fire Department and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife were able to control the flames by about 9 p.m., according to District 5 Chief Michael Wickstrom.

No one was hurt, and no buildings were lost in the fire.

Wickstrom told the Union-Bulletin he could tell this fire was going to be a problem before he even arrived.

“I could see the smoke column from 2 miles away,” he said.

The fire burned through old sagebrush near the highway. The fires started in two different areas near the tracks. Winds of about 20 mph helped the flames spread, pushing it to the other side of the highway as well.

“We have all that 50-year-old sage brush,” he said. “It’s really tall. We call it old-growth sagebrush … That was all on fire.”

Wickstrom said it was fortunate the fires occurred now, and not later in the season.

“If it were 10 days later, I think that fire would have been really big and spread for thousands of miles,” he said.

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