By SVERRE BAKKE
The task force assigned to the Dry Creek Fire burning five miles north of Husum made significant headway in its first two days of intensive firefighting activity.
The wildfire burning on mostly SDS Company and some state timber lands was 15% contained, according to an estimate released Tuesday morning by Shawn Shel-don, incident commander for the task force led by the inter-agency Northwest Incident Management Team 6.
Team 6 assumed management of the fire under a written agreement with Klickitat County Fire District No. 3 and the state Department of Natural Resources, which have joint legal jurisdiction over the fire.
Also Tuesday, Incident Comm-and reported aircraft flew a heat-sensing flight over the fire Monday night. Information gleaned from the flyover resulted in better mapping and a revised acreage from an estimated 400 to 322.
Half of the fire area comprises young tree stands, covered with brush, grass, and under story.
State Route 141 reopened Tues-day at 12:30 p.m. to traffic with a pilot car in operation from Mile-post 14 to Milepost 17. The highway had been closed between Mileposts 12 and 21 and rerouted over the BZ-Glenwood Highway as fire crews used sections of SR 141 for staging, and to keep sightseers out.
The White Salmon River boat launch at BZ Corner and recreational access points above BZ, remained closed Tuesday, by action of the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office. The closure took effect Sunday.
KCSO also issued a Level 1 evacuation notice to residents north of Meyers Road in BZ to south of Pine Flats Road, on both sides of SR 141. The advisory notice to residents to be prepared to leave remained in effect Tuesday.
“Firefighter, public, and aviation safety remains the fire team’s number one priority,” Sheldon said in his daily update Tuesday.
As of Monday evening, two firefighters had been injured on the fire. On Saturday morning a firefighter was hurt when a burning log rolled over him. A second firefighter suffered leg burns Sunday from stepping into a burned-out stump. Both firefighters went to hospital for treatment and were later released.
The cause of the fire that started near Milepost 15 is under investigation by KCSO and DNR.
Jason Spadaro, president of SDS Company, said Monday afternoon he believes the fire was human-caused.
“It’s certainly an odd place for a fire to start, in a reforested clear-cut,” he said.
Spadaro said that 50-60 acres of merchantable timber and 150 acres of reforested areas owned by SDS were damaged by the fire.
“We’ll be able to salvage log it,” Spadaro said of the 50-60 acres of fire-damaged timber land, “and we’ll replant it next spring, along with the other 150 acres that we previously reforested.”
The Dry Creek Fire got going last Friday night around 11:30. Fire District No. 3 Chief Wes Long said Monday evening an observant resident near MP 15 called the fire in to the county 911 center. Southwest Fire agencies responded from Husum, Cherry Lane, White Salmon, and Bingen.
“People who had been visiting a residence at milepost 15 were leaving when they saw flames on the hillside opposite the highway,” Jeff King, the county’s director of Emergency Management. “They went back inside to tell the residents, and they called it in because they knew a burn ban was in effect.”
Southwest Fire crews arrived on scene Friday night and found a tactical situation that included a small fire burning 800-900 feet in from the highway and no direct access to reach it, Long said.
Long estimated the fire, which started west of the Tex Jacobs residence, at 3 to 4 feet in diameter in the early going. After searching around Jacobs’ property, Long said firefighters found a way into the fire and got to work.
“We started stretching hoses but it was dark and we were operating in brush that was waist high,” Long said. “It didn’t help that we had one hose blow out on us. That slowed us down.”
While firefighters below the fire toiled laying hose, a unit under Fire District No. 3 Captain Chris Helton’s command, made it to the top of the slope and set up to hold that line.
Below, however, the fire misbehaved and made a rapid ascent up the steep, reforested clear-cut and began to spread and heat up.
“All kinds of debris began to come down the hillside, rocks, logs, then three Ponderosa pines torched, so we had to pull our people off the line because it was too dangerous,” Long said.
DNR took on management of the fire around 2 a.m. Saturday. Long said DNR started ordering additional resources right away.
Initial attacks Saturday kept the fire at 20-25 acres until warm afternoon winds pushed its growth to about 200 acres. The fire grew to an estimated 400 acres on Sunday as it jumped SR 141 and started burning east, toward the White Salmon River.
Long said only one residence in Fire District No. 3 was “really threatened” by the fire, “and that was mitigated early, in the middle of the night.”