PACIFIC and WAHKIAKUM COUNTIES — Rain on Monday and occasional showers predicted the rest of this week may help a little, but Western Washington’s wildfire season is off to an exceptionally early start.
There have been numerous nearby fires in recent days, with Menlo-based Pacific County Fire District No. 3 reporting a particularly busy time last week. The most serious of five fires was a March 19 blaze that consumed 15 acres in the Oxbow Road area.
“The fire quickly made a run to where units had to disengage from the fire till it was safe,” the district reported. “At points the fire had flames as tall as 25 feet in length with gusts of wind at 16 mph.”
The Washington Department of Natural Resources, Raymond and South Bend Fire Departments rendered mutual aid. On the same day, DNR was also engaged in fighting several other fires in our area.
“We want to express how dry it is and how careful we want people to be,” firefighters said.
Deep River fire
Wahkiakum County Fire District 3 (Grays River) volunteer firefighters responded to a brush and field fire below the Deep River Valley Road on Tuesday afternoon, March 19. Volunteer fire fighters from Pacific County Fire District 4 in Naselle provided mutual aid, arriving on scene with a tender and a fire engine.
The fire, which started in association with target shooting by occupants of a rental house belonging to Ron and Eva Malerich, quickly spread in all directions. It came within feet of the rental house and up to the footings of a garage and an unoccupied house. A vintage milk house was partially burned.
The Fire District 3 brush truck, known as “The Beast,” proved its worth with its front sprayer extinguishing the field fire as the truck was driven through the field. The Beast, which started life as a military dump truck, was obtained for free from DNR and converted to a brush truck at a cost of $38,000.
Hoses, run from a nearby hydrant as well as Naselle’s tender and engine, were used to extinguish the fire moving up and along the hillside. Displaying the benefit of their training, the firefighters were able to efficiently combat the fire. Firefighters from District 3 remained on site for over three hours to make sure no risk remained for re-ignition.
Wahkiakum County quickly issued a county-wide ban on burning. Frost, warmer than normal temperatures and east winds have combined to create very dry conditions and a serious danger of fire. In addition to not burning, local residents should take caution to not engage in outdoor activities with the potential to create sparks or heat that could ignite dry grasses and brush.
March complex 2019 fires
Firefighters were kept on the run in eastern Wahkiakum County and surrounding areas last week, where 10 crews, two helicopters, 15 engines and a variety of other assets fought blazes that had burned more than 284 acres by 10 a.m. March 22.
One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.
In all, the DNR responded to 28 new starts between March 18 and 22. The agency blamed unseasonably high temperatures and low relative humidity for the dangerous fire conditions.
March is exceptionally early for this level of fire activity in normally moist Southwest Washington. Long-range forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict a high probability of warmer-than-usual weather this spring throughout Washington state, and some likelihood of continuing dryness.
As of Monday, March 25, Pacific County had not imposed burning restrictions.
—Observer correspondent Nick Nikkila contributed to this report.