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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
March 5, 2024

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Nakia Creek Fire forces evacuation of Larch Corrections Center near Yacolt

By , Columbian Local News Editor

Rapid growth of the Nakia Creek Fire forced an evacuation of both staff and incarcerated individuals at Larch Corrections Center near Yacolt.

The Washington Department of Corrections activated its emergency operations center Sunday to help in sending resources to Larch, which is in a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation zone.

Incarcerated individuals were taken to temporary alternate housing at other DOC facilities. Details about where incarcerated individuals are being housed is restricted information, according to Rachel Ericson, DOC deputy communications director. But she said in an email Monday they were taken to facilities that had space available.

“We will be doing our best to ensure individuals get access to phones and JPay as soon as possible; however, due to the emergent nature of this evacuation, we are asking for patience and understanding. We will be providing updates on the web page and through communication portals when more information is available,” a Sunday night statement from DOC reads.

DOC declined to disclose the number of people affected by the evacuation, saying the “specific data is restricted for safety and security purposes.” Ericson said she could confirm the entire facility was evacuated and that the facility is empty and secured.

The facility has the capacity to hold 240 male inmates. In September, the daily average population was 230, according to DOC.

Ericson said DOC worked closely with Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency to follow internal evacuation procedures. She declined to share more on that process, citing safety and security concerns.

“All incarcerated individuals cooperated in ensuring the evacuation went smoothly and without incident,” Ericson said.

The facility worked closely with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and CRESA to follow all advised fire precautions, Ericson said. It is unknown when people will be able to return to Larch, she said, and will be dependent on the fire’s containment.

Families frustrated

Some family and friends expressed frustration Monday over being unable to reach their loved ones following the evacuation.

“You recognize that there are hundreds of people who need to go to different places. How do they decide that? They need to provide us with something,” said a woman, who wished to only be identified by the name Max.

Her friend, who’s being housed at Larch, emailed her Sunday and described the units at Larch as being smoky. He said incarcerated individuals were on lockdown and taking meals in their bunks. He was told to pack a few items in the event of an evacuation. (Due to a delay in the JPay system, Max said she didn’t receive that email until Monday afternoon.)

The two spoke by phone at about 5:40 p.m. Sunday, and he told her he had three minutes to talk because others needed to use the phone. Everyone was being evacuated, he said, and officials wouldn’t tell them where they were going.

Max described her friend as being distraught and said it was very noisy at the facility.

“I didn’t sleep. My stomach is in a knot, it’s because I know he won’t have the normal protection that he’s built in his current situation. He won’t have his friends. … He couldn’t get a hold of his counselor. I’m very worried about his mental health and physical health, because he’s going into a new environment,” Max said.