Updated at 3:29 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A fire that ignited west of Onalaska yesterday afternoon grew into a wildfire spreading over roughly 100 acres.
No injuries have been reported or any structures burned, but several area residents were asked to leave.
“There were about 20 homes evacuated by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office yesterday afternoon,” Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said. “By the end of the day they were allowed to return home.”
Lewis County Fire District 1 was called at 2:06 p.m. for smoke showing in the area of the 300 block of Gish Road.
“By the time our unit got to Leonard and Gish roads, she started requesting District 5,” District 1 Assistant Chief Rhonda Volk said.
The initial site was approximately a quarter mile south of 382 Gish Road, according to one fire official.
A crew from District 5 was right behind her as they reached the turnoff, Volk said.
“They made access, found the fire and dumped one load of water on it,” she said. “It was obvious this was way more than we were going to be able to handle.” They backed out, she said.
They were joined by fire trucks and tenders from their own departments as well as from Salkum and rural Chehalis, and a chief from Winlock, Volk said. Help from DNR was requested right away.
“We were basically assigned for structural protection,” District 6 Firefighter Matt McCoy said. “The fire was heading in that direction when the wind shifted; the homeowner was out there with a dozer, trying to put in some fire lines.”
The chief of Onalaska’s DIstrict 1 – an all-volunteer department – was on vacation. Assistant Chief Volk was out of town and arrived later.
Volk said District 5, also known as Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue out of Napavine, took over incident command, and by the time she arrived, DNR was taking over.
She said she understood from District 5’s chief, there was a grand total of about 100 personnel working the fire by last night. DNR sent fire engines with crews as well as two helicopters to drop water, according to Turley.
“We did bring about six loads of fire retardant from air tankers, from Moses Lake,” Turley said.
Most local firefighters were released last night.
“Last night, the heat goes out of the day, the humidity comes up, and the fire starts to lay down,” Turley said this morning. “Today we expect that to reverse itself.”
By 8 p.m. yesterday, the size of the fire was estimated at 80 acres. DNR used GPS mapping during the night to measure it at 103 acres, Turley said. An investigator is trying to determine the cause.
Burning are 10 to 20-year-old trees – Douglas fir and alder – on private parcel tree farms, according to the Type Three Incident Command Team public information officers. It’s near several homes and structures.
Turley said approximately 100 personnel are fighting the fire today, and it’s not considered controlled or contained. DNR crews have been digging a fire break by hand and by bulldozer, he said.
“There’s a line around the entire fire, but its sketchy and narrow, and needs to be widened,” he said.
A Type Three Incident Command Team from northern Arizona – which was already in Washington on stand by – is taking charge of the fire today. They are currently set up at Lewis and Clark State Park.
Within the fire service, a Type Five Command Team is used for the least complicated wild fires, while a Type One Command Team is used for the most complex, according to Turley.
Gish Road is closed to non-resident traffic.