Local firefighters assist with Snake River fire efforts

Local firefighters coming home after helping with 3,000-acre wildfire

RICK FLORES, Evergreen reporter

Six Pullman firefighters expect to return home Wednesday after helping with operations on the Snake River wildfire, which began east of Pomeroy on Saturday with a lightning strike and has burned more than 3,000 acres along the steep slopes beside the river.

Pullman Assistant Fire Chief Ryan Scharnhorst said crews are using bulldozer lines six to eight feet wide and torching vegetation to keep the fire, now 70 percent contained, from spreading to nearby wheat fields.

“The ground was scraped to just dry earth,” he said, “so that there is less of a chance for the fire line to advance.”

Wyatt Leighton, southeast assistant regional manager for wildfire and forest practices, said this fire season may turn out to be more severe than last year.

“With the wet winter and spring we got more vegetation, which means more fuels for fires,” he said. “There is a pretty high chance that this fire season will be bigger, especially if we get more lightning, but the state and local fire agencies should be able to handle it.”

Scharnhorst said the Pullman firefighters are broken up into three pairs – two in an overhead team, two with a brush truck and two with an ambulance.

“They are in front of the advancing fire line but at a safe distance,” he said. “These burnouts that started Sunday should help secure the crops and push the fire in the direction we are hoping for.”

Michael Krueger, the public information officer for the fire, said unexpected weather conditions on Monday evening gave firefighters a chance to make progress on the blaze.

“With the cool night and calmer winds, crews had a chance to get the fire to about 70 percent contained,” Krueger said. “We ended up needing to cancel support that was coming in since we did not need it.”

He said crews were able to stop the night shift at midnight to get their required sleep.

Four volunteer firefighters from Garfield County Fire District No. 1 were hospitalized after the first day of the fire. They were among the first crews to respond to the fire and had been working for a long time before another team came to assist.

“They were all just dehydrated and nothing more,” Krueger said. “Volunteers are not used to combating big fires and are not as physically conditioned as regular firefighters.”

Krueger said all the volunteers had been released from the hospital as of Tuesday morning and have no long term problems.

Krueger said he believes crews will be out of the canyons by noon Wednesday.

“We are starting to check spots and make sure no hot spots are left,” he said. “We should have the whole fire fully contained today [Tuesday], and the local agencies will take over and make sure all the hot spots are gone and everything is extinguished.”