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News / Northwest

Two early-season wildfires pop up on same day in Northwest Washington; wind tests crews

By Jack Belcher, The Bellingham Herald
Published: April 24, 2024, 7:49am

BELLINGHAM — Strong winds have made controlling a pair of Northwest wildfires a difficult task.

The first fire started around 11:47 a.m. April 20 and reached 24.5 acres. It was located north of Lynden on Bender Road, near the Canadian border.

Crews were outmatched at the beginning, prompting the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to take command, Chief Jason Van der Veen with North Whatcom Fire and Rescue told The Bellingham Herald. It is a common practice for DNR to take command of large wildfires as they have the resources to manage them.

“That’s not the type of fire we deal with normally,” Van der Veen said. “We are good for 1 or 2 acres, but when it gets up into that 25-30 acres, we don’t have the resources to deal with that.”

There was no structural damage as a result of the fire, but one firefighter with North Whatcom Fire and Rescue injured his foot and had to be taken to an emergency room. No other injuries were reported.

When crews first arrived at the scene, they estimated the fire to be at about 4 acres, but the winds were averaging 8 mph with 20-mph gusts, according to Van der Veen. The fire had grown to 12 acres by the time DNR took command two hours later.

Because no structures were immediately threatened by the fire, the plan was to keep the fire moving west with the wind until the weather changed to rain. However, when the rain started, the wind shifted north, and the fire flared up again and crossed the border into Canada. Canadian fire crews began to help from the north side of the fire.

Eventually, crews were able to stop the spread of the fire, and it soon burned itself out. DNR crews stayed behind to mop of the scene. Van der Veen is thankful to the crews from Lynden Fire Department, Fire Districts 1, 7 and 14 and DNR for their help with the fire.

Skagit Fire

There was a second wildfire just over a mile north of Lyman in Skagit County, which was first reported around 3 p.m. Saturday, Ryan Rodruck with DNR told The Herald.

Helicopters supported ground teams as the fire reached about 20 acres, spreading fast due to the strong winds. The fire was tended to by a combination of local units and DNR units, Rodruck said.

The fire was also difficult to control due to the uneven terrain, which made it hard for ground crews to bring in heavy machinery to make fire lines, meaning most of the fire lines were dug by hand, Rodruck said.

While there were some nearby structures that were threatened by the fire, none were damaged and no injuries were reported. Crews began mopping up around Monday night.

“It is a little early in the season (for large wildfires) but I would say that for these fires in particular, the wind was definitely a contributing factor,” Rodruck said.