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News / Northwest

Burning Tri-Cities cold storage center partially collapses. Evacuations lifted

By Tri-City Herald
Published: April 22, 2024, 7:51am

KENNEWICK — Residents in part of Finley were told to leave their homes and businesses immediately Sunday afternoon as black smoke billowed over the neighborhood downwind of a fire at Lineage Logistics.

Sunday evening the fire at the 525,000-square-foot frozen food warehouse was expected to burn through the night. The fire was not contained by 9 p.m.

Parts of the building had collapsed on itself.

Washington state fire assistance was authorized to support local firefighters about 6 p.m. at the request of District 1 Fire Chief Lonnie Click.

Early in the afternoon Jenna Kochenauer, spokesperson for Benton Fire District 1, said in a social media video that blowing embers were spreading and starting fires in pallets and natural vegetation nearby.

Several brush fires had started, including some later in the afternoon ignited by whirlwinds of flame and ash that were created by intense rising heat and the wind.

Grass, brush and trees burned and homes were threatened, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

The fire started around 5:15 a.m. Sunday in a freezer at the Lineage Logistics cold storage facility at 224905 E. Bowles Road, east of Kennewick, Kochenauer said.

All workers evacuated when an alarm sounded and sprinklers activated.

The cold storage warehouse was full with items such as frozen vegetables on plastic pallets, she said. Hundreds of wood pallets were stored on the backside of the building.

About 1 p.m. the fire had extended into the roof, and by 4 p.m. half of the facility was heavily damaged, Kochenauer said. A fire wall separates sections of the building.

The cause of the fire was not determined on Sunday.

As the wind picked up Sunday afternoon, firefighters switched from working to extinguish the fire to working to keep it from spreading.

The evacuation area was south of East Bowles Road between roughly Piert Road near the Columbia River west to near Finley Road.

The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at 7202 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick, early Sunday evening but the evacuation order was lifted about 6 p.m.

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The Red Cross estimated that about 65 people in 25 houses had been told to evacuate.

Just before 5 p.m., people to the south of the evacuation area also were told to shelter in place through the night if they had respiratory issues due to the heavy smoke from the fire. The shelter in place recommendation was for areas south of Game Farm Road to Chemical Drive.

Benton County Sheriff’s Office said roads in the area had been closed. They included Piert Road from Lechelt Road to Bowles Road and Bowles Road from Lechelt Road to Finley Road.

People were urged to stay away for their own safety due to unpredictable fire whirlwinds and not to fly drones in the area as aerial trucks were being used.

As of about 4 p.m., no planes or helicopters were being used, but aerial firefighting remained a possibility, Kochenauer said.

Benton County Fire District 1 crews fought the fire initially, and crews from other Benton County districts, plus Franklin County and Walla Walla County districts, and Richland, Pasco and Kennewick firefighters were assisting Sunday afternoon. Hanford site firefighters also were there.

“We’ve brought in as much help as we possibly can,” Kochenauer said.

Water tender trucks were hauling water to the fire from Eastgate Elementary in Kennewick and the Finley schools.

The clouds of black smoke from the cold storage facility could be seen from miles away by mid-afternoon. The smoke was visible to the north at Connell and to the south across the Oregon state line.

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