Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Authorities: Stay out of Winlock creek, avoid contaminated runoff from warehouse fire

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Responder examines fish from Olequa Creek. / Courtesy photo by Department of Ecology

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Local officials yesterday joined state ecologists in warning residents not to swim or play in Olequa Creek after all species and sizes of fish, insects and other living organisms were killed for five miles downstream of Tuesday’s warehouse fire.

The early morning blaze in Winlock destroyed a 14,640-square-foot building. Runoff from the fire’s extinguishment that included cooking oil reached a storm drain, and seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building.

Olequa Creek is a tributary to the Cowlitz River.

Lewis County Public Health & Social Services cautions the public to stay out, at least to Ferrier Road and avoid any water with a visible sheen of oil.

Bill Teitzel, the department’s environmental services supervisor, indicated that local staff have inspected the area and will continue to monitor the situation.

Spill responders by Wednesday afternoon had already filled two 21,000 gallon tanks with oily waste water, according to the state Department of Ecology. The number of dead fish is most likely closer to thousands rather than hundreds, the state agency said.

The warehouse stored grocery products.

Authorities confirmed with the building’s owners they had recently received 1,124 gallons of vegetable and canola oil, according to the state agency. They also stored vegetable shortening.

DOE hired Cowlitz Clean Sweep from Longview to assist with the cleanup and both were on the scene on Tuesday. Seventeen personnel with at least seven response trucks were on site on Wednesday.

They are continuing today to recover oil from the creek, using absorbent pads and vacuum trucks and have utilized sand berms and other methods to keep more polluted water from entering the waterway as the fire’s extinguishment has been ongoing.

The creek itself is not a drinking water source, or, more specifically, Lewis County Public Health is not aware of any approved drinking water source from Olequa, according to Teitzel.

The state Department of Ecology identifies the warehouse as belonging to Olympic Trading Company. The building and the property are shown by the Lewis County Assessors Office as 915 N.W. Kerron St. and owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.

State authorities indicated the responsible party, the warehouse owner, is out of the country but has been cooperative.

Department of Ecology crews and cleanup contractors are expecting to keep working through the weekend and eventually move into a longer term passive cleanup program, according to Teitzel.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by Sgt. Sam Patrick of the Toledo Police Department.

For background, read “Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame” from Tuesday August 18, 2015, here

Despite convictions, investigation still underway in death of 3-year-old Vader boy last year

Friday, August 21st, 2015

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The criminal case of the 3-year-old boy who died while in the care of a Vader couple last autumn continues to drag on.

Danny and Brenda Wing, both 27, have pleaded guilty under an agreement in which they’ve promised to share information with authorities and undergo polygraph examinations.


Jasper Henderling-Warner

Jasper Henderling-Warner died from what the coroner labeled chronic battered child syndrome last Oct. 5.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead back in May sought and was granted permission for sentencing to be held off, because, he said, the investigation was still ongoing.

In July, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer revealed criminal charges could be filed against others. He didn’t rule out the little boy’s mother.

Brenda Wing was scheduled to be sentenced today in Lewis County Superior Court, but the hearing has been delayed. Danny Wing went before a judge last Friday when Halstead got a postponement for his sentencing.

Danny WIng’s lawyer opposed waiting, according to court documents.

Halstead last week said he is still waiting for unspecified things to happen in the case – including the polygraph tests – and it’s taking longer than he thought.

Each of the two have pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and third-degree child assault. They both face a standard sentencing range of between 146 months and 194 months in prison.

However, if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, prosecutors indicate in court documents they could add so-called enhancements, leaving the Wings facing terms up to life.

Authorities have spoken about the little boy’s injuries, but nothing has been shared publicly about how he got them.

The formal statements of guilt don’t offer much insight, as Danny Wing said he recklessly caused Jasper’s death by failing to get medical care for the boy and Brenda Wing’s statement says she recklessly caused the death, as an accomplice.

Jasper’s  21-year-old mother had given the couple temporary custody last summer while she was homeless and looked for work out of state.

Currently, Danny Wing’s sentencing is on the court calendar for Sept. 11 and his wife’s is scheduled for Sept. 25.

For background, read, “Prosecutor not ruling out other arrests in Vader toddler’s death” from Thursday July 2, 2015, here

Onalaska chicken farm and almost 200 acres consumed by wildfire

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Chicken farm fire on the 200 block of Gore Road. / Courtesy photo by Rhonda Volk

Updated at 5:49 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The fire believed to have been sparked by a tractor-brush hog operating in a field in Onalaska destroyed a dozen chicken barns and burned 175 acres of property.

Crews are still on the scene this morning.

“Everything is black, burned, but nothing right now is causing any major hazard,” Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel said this morning.

It was reported shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday at the Neilson’s chicken farm on the 200 block of Gore Road.

Crews created what McDaniel called a wet line to protect the farm and also to keep fire from getting to an 18,000 gallon propane tank.

McDaniel and two of his firefighters were putting water down around the tank when flames about 25 feet tall rolled over the fire break towards them, he said. Some neighbors were in the area as well, he said.

“We left on foot,” McDaniel said. “There was probably six or seven of us that ran out of there.”

They left behind a 2,500 gallon fire engine-tender that was destroyed, he said.

McDaniel called for everyone – fire personnel and residents alike – to evacuate the area for at least a half mile away from the propane tank, and then enlarged the zone to a mile, he said.

“The size of it, if it blew, it would have launched itself about a mile,” he said.

McDaniel at that point requested help from every fire chief in Lewis County. Assistance came that included fire tenders from all or almost all departments in the county, as well as two from Thurston County and two from Cowlitz County, he said.

Firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources responded as well, he said.

The firefighting effort couldn’t continue until after a DNR helicopter was able to observe that the only thing still left burning near the tank was the fire truck, he said.

Homes in the area of the fire have Onalaska addresses, but are protected by the Lewis County Fire District 8, based in Salkum.

The farmer’s house was saved as was a neighbor’s barn and several other structures, according to McDaniel.

But 12 large chicken buildings were lost; eight of them occupied by poultry, he said.

Nobody was injured, but two firefighters became overheated, he said.

Critical fire weather conditions are expected to continue through the weekend, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

DNR is warning the public to take every available precaution to protect themselves during what they call emergency conditions.

All available resources, both statewide and nationally, are already deployed fighting wildfires across the American West, according to Carrie McCausland, DNR’s deputy director of communications.

More than 1,000 firefighters are battling 10 large wildfires on the other side of the mountains, where more than 120,000 acres have burned.

Three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed yesterday fighting fires in Okanogan County, and other federal and state wildland firefighters were burned or injured.

McCausland urges members of the public to take any evacuation order or emergency direction with the utmost seriousness.

Most firefighting agencies have, by necessity, adopted a defensive posture to contain the already overwhelming spread of wildfires, she stated in a news release this morning.

A fire that broke out a week and a half ago south of Gish Road in Onalaska scorched 102 acres of private property and at one point had about 170 personnel assigned to it.

On Aug. 5, approximately 50 DNR firefighters were working about four miles north of the Gish Road fire to extinguish 18 acres of burning brush and trees off Centralia-Alpha Road.

After District 8’s call for assistance yesterday, the Chehalis Fire Department was put on standby to answer any other calls as far away as Mossyrock, wherever they might be needed.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Dusty Breen said deputies provided traffic control and helped with evacuations.

Breen said it appeared the fire originated with the tractor-brush hog, but they are conducting an investigation.

U.S. Highway 12 was closed at Leonard Road in Ethel, and then expanded to reach from Jackson Highway at Mary’s Corner to Fuller Road in Salkum.

Gore Road was shut down at Fred Plant Road on the east end to Leonard Road at the west end; and Leonard’s closure extended north to Gish Road.

The Lewis County 911 center put out reverse 911 calls to advise residents in the area to evacuate beginning just after 3 p.m. and ending at 7:45 p.m. The Code Red emergency alert warning system is available to those who register their phone numbers with it.

McDaniel said it wasn’t until about 11 p.m. they felt like the fire was under control enough to wrap up for the night.

DNR is estimating the fire is 50 to 60 percent contained this morning.

District 8’s fire engine-tender that burned is worth about $350,000, according to McDaniel.

For background, read “Breaking news: Large fire prompts evacuations near Ethel” from Wednesday August 19, 2015, here


Deputies and firefighters knocked on doors for an evacuation of one mile in every direction after fire rolled over an 18,000 gallon propane tank. / Courtesy photo by John Cleveland

Breaking news: Large fire prompts evacuations near Ethel

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Looking north towards Ethel from near the Cowlitz River. / Courtesy photo

Updated at 7:56 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Evacuations are underway in a one-mile wide area around a several-acre fire burning in Lewis County.

U.S. Highway 12 is closed at Leonard Road in Ethel.

The fire is just north of there, at the 200 block of Gore Road.

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza had a post made on the sheriff’s office Facebook page at 3:31 p.m. today, making the announcement.

He asks that citizens stay out of the area and to please evacuate, if needed.

The following roads have been closed:
• U.S. Highway 12 from Jackson Highway to Fuller Road.
• Leonard Road at Gish Road
• Leonard Road at U.S. Highway 12
• Gore Rd at Fred Plant Road

The sheriff’s brief message made mention that it’s not confirmed if a propane tank is actually pierced. The state Department of Natural Resources reported just before 4 p.m. that structures were threatened.

A large smoke column was visible just before 3 p.m. from more than five miles to the south.

Ethel is roughly eight miles east of Interstate 5.

Homes in the area of the fire have Onalaska addresses, but are protected by the Salkum Fire Department.

A Code Red reverse 911 call was sent out beginning at  3:05 p.m. today, to those who have previously signed up for the service.

It read: “Fire District 8 Chief is advising everyone in the area between Leonard Road and Kennedy Road and between highway 12 and Gore Road to evacuate due to a fire and hazardous conditions. Information about when it is safe to return will be available at 360-740-1152.

The state Department of Transportation advised at 5:27 p.m.: “For the safety of the traveling public, U.S. Highway 12 is closed between Jackson Highway and Fuller Road in Salkum due to the Gore Road Fire. Eastbound traffic is being detoured north to Jackson Highway then to state Route 508. Westbound traffic is to state Route 122 to Cinebar Road to state Route 508. Updates will be posted to the WSDOT Blog.”

However, DOT advised at 5:37 p.m. U.S. Highway 12 is now back opened.

Lewis County Fire District 8 advised at 7:45 p.m. that it is now safe for all residences evacuated from the Gore Road area to return home.

Steve Mansfield, who oversees the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, said it appears fire crews will be out there for the rest of the evening, at least.

Further details to come.


Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Fire breaks out at Winlock warehouse. / Courtesy photo by Desiree Bowers

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

WINLOCK – Twelve hours after fire tore through a warehouse just up the street from the world’s largest egg in Winlock, smoke still rose from the sprawling pile of the building’s remains.

“We still have pockets of active flames,” Lewis County Fire District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson said.

An excavator was working through the debris so firefighters could continue to extinguish it.

The wood-framed, metal-sided structure stood on the west side of Northwest Kerron Street, just south of Laurel Street.

A similarly large warehouse to its south and two-story house to its north appeared untouched.

Anderson said firefighters arriving after the approximately 2:30 a.m. call found heavy smoke outside and flames visible from the north side of the building, coming out of a rollup door he believed had “failed”.

They were joined by crews from Vader, Toledo, Napavine and rural Chehalis, as well as the ladder truck from the Chehalis Fire Department.

It was an exterior attack, nobody was hurt, he said. The initial knockdown took well over an hour.

“I believe the business was, they were kind of like the middle man, selling materials to some of the liquidator stores,” Anderson said. “Mostly food items.”

It was filled with everything from ketchup and mustard to laundry detergent; pallets and pallets full of grocery products, plus plastic wrapping and packing materials, fire investigator Sam Patrick said.

“So your fire load was huge,” Patrick said.

Anderson said he didn’t know when people were last in the building, as the owners are away on vacation.

Patricia and Michael Parish, who reside in the Winlock area are out of the country, but had been contacted, according to Patrick.

Information from the Lewis County Assessors Office shows the 14,640-square-foot warehouse was built in 1968. It was labeled in fair condition. The assessed value is $220,000.

The building and the property – just shy of one acre – are listed as owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.

Among the rubble was a for-sale sign. Toledo Police Chief John Brockmueller said the property had been on the market off and on for three years or so.

Some of the run off from fire hoses reached a storm drain, and cooking oil seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building, according to personnel on the scene from the state Department of Ecology.

Spill Responder Ben Cornell said they had various ways of cleaning up what they could, including vacuuming oils from the water’s surface.

Brockmueller was there, as the city of Winlock recently contracted with Toledo for police services. Patrick is Sgt. Patrick with the Toledo Police Department. He also sits on the Winlock City Council.

Patrick said he expected it could be a couple of days before he could get in and start searching for the cause.


Firefighters continue putting out hot spots today at Northwest Kerron Street.

Smoke rises from the remains of pallets of grocery items after warehouse burns in Winlock.

Man struck by locomotive in Rochester, gets up and walks away

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Updated at 11:40 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 24-year-old walking on the railroad tracks in Rochester last night, was hit by a train and taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital with head and neck injuries.

“The crew said he was walking down the tracks, the train approached,” West Thurston Regional Fire Authority Chief Robert Scott said. “He stepped off to the side but not far enough.”

Firefighters called about 9:35 p.m. to the area near 183rd Avenue Southwest and Pendleton Street searched around the train, Scott said. They were joined by the crew of the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad train which had stopped, but didn’t find the man.

A sheriff’s deputy located the victim two blocks away on Daryl Lane, Scott said.

Ambulatory and conscious are not findings usually associated with such a call, Scott said.

“He was clipped by the corner of the engine, knocked clear and fell down in the gravel,” Scott said.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office described the injury as minor. Scott said visually it was obviously serious, but, he was still walking and talking.

Medics transported the patient to the Olympia hospital. He was treated and has been released, a hospital spokesperson said this morning.

Armed Centralia resident wounded with own firearm after contacting trespasser

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 39-year-old man with a gun who confronted a prowler in his yard in Centralia last night ended up shot in his foot with his own weapon, according to what he told police.

The man told police who arrived after the 9:24 p.m. call to the 500 block of Hamilton Avenue that he’d gone outside to feed his cat, saw someone on his property and confronted him, Sgt. Carl Buster said.

Police were told the prowler “rushed” him and struck him in the head with a pipe, Buster said.

The 39-year-old said he began to draw his pistol, but the other guy shoved the gun down, causing the victim to shoot himself, according to police. The victim fired a second round at the suspect while he was running away, police said.

The prowler then disappeared into the night, Buster said.

Police summoned aid for the man, set up “containment” around the area and attempted to find the subject they were told was a white or Hispanic male, Buster said.

A police dog was summoned to assist.

The K-9 sniffed around the yard but could not pick up a scent to track, Buster said.

The victim had a bump on his head as well as the gunshot wound, but has already been released from the hospital, he said.

Victim of freight train was locally renowned recycler

Friday, August 14th, 2015

The Locust Street crossing in Centralia sees more than 50 trains pass through it daily


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Victor J. Bonagofski, a nearly lifelong resident of Centralia, lost his life when he fell off his bicycle on the railroad tracks and was hit by a freight train on Wednesday night.

Police say Bonagofski was at the Locust Street crossing, headed east and the crossing arms had come down. Witnesses told police he was was unable to move off the tracks prior to being struck.

The 72-year-old who made his living recycling and selling car parts had been behind the Hub Tavern on South Tower Avenue not long before it happened.

He was near the dumpsters, “doing what he normally does,” Centralia resident Jennifer Holt said.

She’d noticed him while she and her boyfriend were out in the bar’s beer garden.

Holt said she was taken aback when she learned later what had happened, and who was killed.

“I don’t know him, I know who he is,” she said this morning. “I’d see him a lot, doing the cardboard thing.”

The Lewis County coroner today released his name and said he concluded the death was accidental.

Born in North Dakota, Bonagofski was 10th of 14 children. His family moved to Centralia in 1950, according to one of his more than 60 nieces and nephews.

He lived on Reynolds Avenue, on a parcel of roughly two acres that over the years has drawn the attention of city and county officials, concerned about his thick collection of recyclables and vehicles.

He owned the land there, according to nephew Kevin Bonagofski.

Back in January of 2008, more than a dozen government employees, including law enforcement with their guns drawn, visited his property, accusing Bonagofski of operating an illegal wrecking yard. When they knocked on the door of his soon-to-be condemned mobile home tucked amongst scores of cars and trucks, Bonagofski had been burning sticks and blackberry vines in his wood stove and listening to a local radio talk show.

Twice before, the then-64-year-old said, they’d filed nuisance abatements on his property.

The man who earned a degree in business administration from Seattle University years earlier said it was time consuming, getting the property cleaned up – which is what he suspected officials really wanted – especially with interruptions of lawsuits and civil actions.

Lewis County code enforcement had been talking with him again in recent months.

Nephew Kevin Bonagofski said his uncle never married and had no children.

“I heard one time, he had a mail order bride, but it didn’t work out,” said Dave Dix who works at the commercial properties adjacent to Bonagofski’s compound.

Dix said Bonagofski would stop over once or twice a week, often buying cars when there was an auction.

“It was definitely a shock, he’s gonna be missed, that’s for sure,” Dix said.

Dix said he was told Bonagofski just laid there after he fell down; he wondered if maybe he had a heart attack or hit his head and was knocked out.

BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said it was an empty grain train headed from Kalama to Montana that was involved. Crew on the northbound train saw someone and tried to stop, Melonas said.

“They went into an emergency brake application, but impact was made, unfortunately,” Melonas said.

It didn’t entirely surprise Dix that the neighbor would have tried to pedal across even after the crossing arms came down. He wasn’t exactly known for abiding by the rules.

“If it wasn’t in the Constitution, then it wasn’t the law,” Dix said. “He was hard on that, he pushed that issue.”

However, he was a good person, in good shape for a man of his age and was busy from daylight to dark, according to Dix. His driver’s license had been suspended, many times, so he usually rode a bicycle pulling a small trailer, he said.

“He was a worker, man he was a worker,” Dix said. “We used to watch him go up the road and come back with that trailer full.”

Lavonne Riggen, Bonagofski’s younger sister, came to the property this afternoon to help look for important documents.

“A lot people looked at Vic and thought he was just a bum,” Riggen said. “But they didn’t know how smart he was; he graduated from Seattle University with degrees in political science and business.”

He was just stubborn about his rights, she said.

The Centralia woman said her brother also was gifted when it came to auto mechanics.

“We used to say he was born with crank case oil in his blood,” she said.


Gish Road Fire: Minimal burning, but work continues with scores of personnel

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The fire that consumed and scorched 102 acres of private property in Onalaska is considered 70 percent contained this morning.

Since Monday it has been mostly smoldering and smoking, having burned young Douglas fir and alder as well as thick underbrush and leftovers from previous logging.


Tuesday August 11, 2015

No one has been injured and no structures lost, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

One hundred seventy people are assigned to work the fire today, along with 14 fire engines, three dozers and five water tenders, according to a spokesperson for its incident command team.

A fact sheet issued this morning from Public Information Officer Connie Birkland lists the fire as “human caused, under investigation”. But Birkland said they still don’t know what sparked the blaze on Sunday.

“We’re just making that statement,” Birkland said. “We just know there was no lightning at the time, no obvious evidence (like something from a power line); so we’re assuming it’s human caused.”

Birkland said they have no specific information about what did cause the fire. DNR investigators are responsible for finding that out, she said.

The fire scene is on a relatively flat ridge top south of Gish Road.

Birkland said they initially reported it was 103 acres, but revised that down after the individual who measured it said it was really closer to 102 acres.

Crews continue to mop up hot spots within the fire perimeter. Fire is minimal and continues to smolder in stumps and root system.

No new fire growth is expected, a relatively thin fire line was established early on.

They’re expecting slightly cooler weather with a chance of minimal rain and possibly lightning, Birkland said.

“We’re also being told it would take quite a bit of rain to make any difference for the fire,” she said.

For background, read “Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks” from Tuesday August 11, 2015, here

Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Personnel continue work to extinguish hot spots south of Gish Road. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The Onalaska wildfire that broke out on Sunday and spread rapidly to more than 100 acres is smoldering, something that could continue for quite some time, according to officials.

Still approximately 100 firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources are working at the scene, Public Information Officer Connie Birkland said last night.

The blaze burned what authorities initially described as a young plantation of Douglas fir and alder on private property south of the 300 block of GIsh Road, roughly five miles east of Interstate 5.

An early evacuation advisory was issued for residents in the vicinity on Sunday afternoon, but rescinded that evening. Aerial drops of retardant from jet planes were used to protect homes along the northern perimeter and also to slow the flames from spreading to the east.

“At this point, there are no structures we’re worried about,” Birkland said.

As of last night, the fire was considered 20 percent contained, meaning a sufficiently wide and extinguished strip of ground that circles the fire is only 20 percent finished.  They’ve got engines with hoses laid around the perimeter.

Crews are continuing the hard work of what they call mop up, according to Birkland.

“There’s a lot of hot, underground roots and stumps still burning,” she said, “You’re not seeing a lot of flames, you see smoke.”

No injuries have been reported or any structures burned. The cause remains under investigation.

Chief Gregg Peterson, of Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue in Napavine, who along with Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel of Salkum assisted the local fire departments’ response on Sunday said his “first-in” person pointed out yesterday morning to the investigator the spot where the fire originated .

But there weren’t other obvious clues to share about what may have started the fire, according to Peterson.

“Our people didn’t see anyone or make contact with anyone, as far as I know,” he said of the initial response.

DNR has not yet said who owns the parcels involved.

Birkland said she may have miscommunicated somewhat about the nature of the properties involved. The land holds not so much tree farms as what they call regeneration – young growth of new trees – following previous logging, she said.

Peterson said acreage-wise, it was as big of a fire as he’s ever seen in Lewis County. Chief Mike Kytta, a nearly 40-year veteran of firefighting from Centralia, said the same, according to Peterson.

McDaniel, who started firefighting as a 16-year-old said the largest he knew of was in the summer of 1983 when a fire off Winston Creek Road at Longbell Road burned 247 acres. He recalled a good-sized fire on Dodge Road out of Morton in the 1990s, but said he didn’t know its size.

The Gish Road Fire has been measured at 103 acres.

“In the last 30 years, (this) was the biggest one we’ve had, as far as I know, that was anywhere near homes,” McDaniel said.

Watching a low-flying jet drop fire retardant across the area was a rare sight, and a first for McDaniel.

“When I went to fire school, they said you’ll never see this in Western Washington,” he said.

It was just about exactly a year ago that a roughly 60-acre forest fire burned beyond Teague Road, west of Centralia. Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said DNR used a plane to drop fire retardant there.

How long until the Gish Road fire is out, or how long crews will be working on it isn’t something Birkland  could easily answer.

“Even though it’s confined inside the fire perimeter right now, it can go on for weeks,” she said.

For background, read “Tree farm property burning in Onalaska” from Monday August 10, 2015, here


Property south of Gish Road smokes and smolders today. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1


The first air drop of fire retardant onto parcels near Gish Road on Sunday. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

Tree farm property burning in Onalaska

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Looking south from Gish Road at Davis Drive at an air tanker dropping fire retardant yesterday. / Courtesy photo by Cassie Frazier

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.


A large plume of smoke was suddenly visible from several miles east in Silver Creek yesterday afternoon. / Courtesy photo by Jenifer Poe-Couch

Local fire danger prompts more restrictions, warnings

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Not even small backyard campfires are allowed until further notice in the cities of Centralia, Chehalis and unincorporated Lewis County, as of yesterday and today. / Courtesy photo by Rhonda Volk

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Just put the marshmallow roasting sticks away for the summer.

Outdoor recreational and cooking fires are prohibited within the city limits of both Centralia and Chehalis until further notice.

Both cities made announcements yesterday afternoon, one day after a similar ban was issued for unincorporated areas of Lewis County.


Ken Cardinale

Officials are citing a high fire hazard due to the extremely parched environment.

Chehalis Fire Department Chief Ken Cardinale put it this way:

“As the Chehalis fire chief, I cannot stress enough the seriousness of the fire danger that presently exists,” Cardinale stated. “The continued dry conditions, very low fuel moistures and dry weather pattern we have been experiencing are contributing to the high fire danger.”

Brush fires have broken out, but area firefighters have been quick to keep them from burning down buildings. The dry season began earlier than usual this year, meaning vegetation is more susceptible to ignition.

The restrictions apply on both private property and public property, such as city parks.

Centralia’s went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today. Residents there are still allowed to use above ground barbecues with contained flame.

Chehalis’s is in effect now. Citizens there are permitted the use of propane or charcoal barbecues that are self contained with lids. Also, outdoor fireplaces equipped with an approved spark arrestor installed on the flue are okay, according to the city.

All three entities strongly urge residents and property owners to be attentive to the dangers and take proactive fire prevention measures.

Cardinale refers folks to the Chehalis Fire Department’s website, where information can be found on what those in the fire service refer to as creating “defensible space” around your home.

It’s a good time for some yard work, pruning, trimming and cleaning up if it hasn’t already been done.

The new fire chief also suggests anyone with questions ought to give them a call, or stop by the station.

A brush fire that broke out on Tuesday off Centralia-Alpha Road southeast of Chehalis grew to 18 acres and as of yesterday, still had more than 70 firefighters and support personnel from the state Department of Natural Resources working to extinguish hot spots.

Steve Mansfield, who oversees the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, visited the scene yesterday morning and indicated DNR planned to remain there through the weekend to ensure it didn’t reignite or spread.

“Until this drought is over and the threat of fire is significantly diminished, be physically aware of safety around any open flames or activity that could cause an ignition of materials,” Mansfield stated.

Recent fires in Lewis and south Thurston counties have had suspected causes from such ordinary activities as lawn mowing with the blade catching a rock, haying with a tractor driving over a “wind row”, and a worn extension cord to a parked motorhome starting a grass fire.

The former sheriff noted none of us can control the weather conditions, but there are a number of steps individuals can take to reduce the risks. Basic precautions:

• Don’t throw lit materials and cigarettes out of your vehicle.
• Find alternatives to outdoor campfires and cooking.
• Refrain from driving in areas of tall grass and fields
• When operating equipment, watch for anything that can cause a spark.
• Have a fire extinguisher handy when working outdoors near sources of ignition.
• Listen to local media regarding local fire conditions and hazards
• Be proactive, the property and lives you save may be your own.

Feds: Tree thieves and mill owner indicted for trafficking specialty maple from Gifford Pinchot

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Courtesy photo by U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Three Lewis County timber cutters and a Winlock mill owner have been indicted on theft and other federal crimes in a case involving illegal harvest and selling of Big Leaf Maple, the wood from which is particularly valuable for musical instruments.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced yesterday Harold Clause Kupers, 48, owner of  J & L Tonewoods, allegedly purchased the maple knowing it was stolen and then sold it to out of state companies for more than $800,000.

The tree cutters allegedly took the specialty wood from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

“The trees in our national forests belong to all Americans and should not be chopped up to enrich a few,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes stated. “In this case a beautiful and valued resource that is home to endangered species, was felled with some parts just discarded on the forest floor.”

Charged with theft of and damaging of government property are Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, James Miller, 36, of Morton, and Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, according to authorities.

Kupers is accused of giving training and assistance to the trio on how to retrieve the wood from various sites in the forest. The men would seek out “figured maple” which is especially valuable for musical instruments, according to Hayes.

According to the indictment, between October 2011 and March 2012 the tree cutters made approximately fifty sales of illegally-harvested maple wood to Kupers for his Winlock lumber mill. They allegedly would deliver pieces of the trees to J& L Tonewoods, where it was cut into salable blocks called “billets.”

Kupers is charged with receipt of stolen property and seven violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish, and plants.

Justice and Miller are in custody pending detention hearings. Mullins has not yet made his initial appearance on the indictment.

Violations of the Lacey Act are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The other charges in the indictment are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson.

Chehalis area wildfire knocked down but not contained

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Two helicopters drop water as dozens of firefighters on the ground work to stop a fire off Centralia-Alpha Road. / Courtesy photo by Lori Nelsen

Updated at 12:43 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A fire of unknown origin broke out southeast of Chehalis yesterday, growing to approximately 12 acres as it consumed brush and trees.

“The fire is knocked down, there’s not active fire now,” Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said this morning. “We’re trying to keep it that way.”

Local firefighters called around 3 p.m. yesterday to the area roughly a half mile north of the intersection of Centralia-Alpha Road and North Fork Road headed towards a large smoke column and found a fairly large brush fire, Lewis County Fire District 6 Chief Tim Kinder said.

“We concentrated on a small farm at risk of being taken down,” Kinder said.

Crews from rural Chehalis, Napavine and Onalaska protected the small house until personnel from DNR arrived, he said.

DNR put into service more than 40 firefighters, a bulldozer and two helicopters which dropped water on the flames. A helicopter is on standby this morning.

The wind was swirling up above and constantly changing directions, Kinder said. “And it was a lot of heavy, thick brush.”

The active fire was knocked down last night and the last tender crew from Lewis County Fire District 6 was released about 7 o’clock this morning. Crews with two tenders from Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue were on the scene this morning, Kinder said.

Turley said they’ve dug a line around all but about 300 feet and consider it 60 percent contained this morning.

Fueling the blaze was standing timber as well as relatively newly planted trees, he said, with lots of blackberries and lots of salal.

It’s the third time in a week fire has sprung up on the property. Turley said his crews were out there last Tuesday and Wednesday.

“All I’ll say about that is the cause is under investigation,” he said.

Approximately 50 DNR personnel are working out there today, he said.

Turley said the lower temperatures and that the relative humidity came up overnight were helpful.

He’s expecting a four to five day reprieve with the weather and then on Tuesday it’s forecast to get very hot again, he said.

Turley said he’s not sure how much longer they will be out there.

“I would imagine it will take more than just today to get it completely controlled,” he said.

It was just last Friday when the Commissioner of Public Lands urged the public to take the utmost care not to spark fires, citing a combination of worsening conditions and the probability of multiple large fires by mid-week.

Seven active large fires are burning in the state currently, including one that broke out about 1 p.m. yesterday in Klickitat County and is already approximately 10,000 acres, according to authorities. That blaze, near the town of Roosevelt in south Central Washington called the Highway 8 Fire, is threatening 350 homes and evacuation orders have been put in place.

Several local firefighters departed yesterday evening to help out, including two from Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue, three from West Thurston Regional Fire Authority and two from Thurston County Fire District 12.