We are pleased to announce our new weekly postings of Wildfire Wednesday, a chance to do more of a show-and-tell of current and former wildfire incidents on a weekly basis.
Today’s Wildfire Wednesday is about one of Kittitas County, Washington’s largest wildfires we had the rare honor and privilege to photograph these scary moments in time.
TAYLOR BRIDGE FIRE
On Monday, August 13, 2012, the Taylor Bridge Fire started around 1300 hours in the afternoon on the Taylor Bridge on SR 10, just east of Cle Elum.
Declaration of Emergency Issued by The Board of County Commissioners on August 13, 2012
According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR), the fire initially started from welding and sawing activities on a bridge replacement project which extended to the wildland-urban interface.
According to sources, welding wire-brushing steel plates and beams beneath the deck of the bridge, plus sawing was pushed past the cutoff time of 1300 hours by two companies. WA DNR issued a stop-work order past 1300 hours PT due to RED FLAG WARNING conditions of extreme fire hazards in the area as temps were hot and dry conditions had increased to dangerous levels.
Prior to this major fire breaking out, the construction crews would see two previous smaller fires and put them out themselves. These were unreported to any fire agency.
Once the heavy dried-out fuels were touched by fire, it would soon begin to spread to area dry fuels. Workers would attempt to extinguish the third fire, like all of the others but without success. According to online documents, a worker drove a water truck to the site of the fire but was unsure how to work its water sprayer controls, while another employee was unable to locate a fire extinguisher at the job site. It would eventually grab one from his own personal vehicle. A supervisor arrived shortly thereafter and got the water sprays to work but the truck would soon run out of water before it could be put out.
The fire started near Hwy 10 and quickly spread at a rate of about 30 mph, jumping over Hwy 97 and prompting fire and law enforcement to issue mandatory evacuation orders to all homes in Swauk Valley, Prairie Valley, Betas Road Hidden Valley, and Ellensburg Ranches Road.
Within the fire perimeter, structures would be threatened including the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, a chimp facility where they had several chimps who had been released after being used for medical research. A portion of its grounds was burned but the main building had been under the structure protection group’s tireless efforts and saving its livelihood.
In the end, the fire destroyed 61 homes, blackened 36 square miles, burned 23,000 acres, damaged several structures, and, took two weeks to contain.
The cost of the fire reached a whopping $11.1 Million Dollars.
A determination was issued:
- Crews were not adequately trained in fire suppression and equipment was insufficient to meet the needs when the fire started.
- The two main smaller fires were unreported to local fire authorities.
- No precautions were taken by either the contractor or the subcontractor to prevent hot materials from igniting heavy fire fuel loads to ignite and spreading throughout the area.
The two contractors would be sued in Kittitas County Superior Court by the fire victims citing the reasons above and for their loss of property and assets. They would settle out of court for $59.75 Million Dollars, which was paid by their insurance companies.
Fire personnel including aviation assets responded from King County, Yakima, Selah, and many more.
In August of 2012, after the wildfire was over and done with, the community came together with fundraising drives for fire victims and overall, bonding over this large incident.
Here is the timeline of the wildfire as gleaned from verified and public sources:
As of 4:00pm, the fire had entered the Sunlight Waters community. Smoke was seen behind the Water Tower’s hill. Evacuated.
Firefighters say the fire has come into the Sunlight Waters community three different times, and that there are multiple burned houses on Morrison Canyon Lane. They rated the fire a 13 on a scale of 1-10.
Ellensburg Police Blotter: Two community meetings have been planned for Wednesday, August 15: In Cle Elum at 4:00 PM Cle Elum/Roslyn High School Gymnasium, 2692 SR 90, and in Ellensburg at 7:00 PM Central Washington University Student Union Recreation Room, 400 East University Way.
The Washington Incident Management Team 2 appreciates your support and patience while firefighters work to manage the Taylor Bridge Fire. No injuries have been reported on this fire.
For anyone trying to call the evacuation line, there are only 8 people that are answering phone calls. So if the line is busy, give it time, they will be receiving a large number of calls, I’d imagine. This might answer some frustrating questions.
Comisky said as of this morning there were about 800 firefighters from Washington and one air tanker from Canada working to stop the blaze.
Fire commanders estimated the blaze has burned across at least 28,000 acres. On Tuesday evening, Reed said the fire is 10 percent contained. He said that a containment line was built around the southeast corner of the Taylor Bridge Fire. Fire crews were arriving from across the state Tuesday, with as many as 600 expected by the end of the day.
Joe Seemiller, a captain in Kittitas County Fire and Rescue, and his crews monitored the edge of the fire Tuesday near the Yakima River, trying to keep it from crossing where there is a subdivision of homes nearby on the other side.”Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we’re going to be fighting this awhile,” Seemiller said. – Ellensburg Police Blotter
8/16/2012 1109 PT:
The first reports of injuries were announced late Thursday morning by Michael Mueller, a public information officer representing the DNR. One firefighter suffered minor facial burns, and another was treated for dehydration.
Mueller reiterated that firefighting efforts Thursday are focused on the Hidden Valley region and that workers will specifically be looking to keep the flames away from major highways, and homes and developments in the area.
A huge thank you to Ellensburg Foursquare Church & Mercer Creek Church for loaning much-needed tables at the Fire Relief Community Closet located at 421 Main (the bike shop)! Clothing, shoes, toiletries, toys, cleaning supplies, bedding, etc.
Thank you to all the volunteers who helped to move these items that outgrew the space at Holiday Inn Express and set up in this new location!
8/18/2012 1430 PT:
Evacuation Level 1 North of SR 970 has been upgraded to Level 2. Areas north of SR 970 include Swauk Prairie, Ley Road, and Hartman Road. Law Enforcement will be in the area contacting residents.
Areas north of SR 97 to the north of China Camp Lane including Shamrock Lane and Forbes Lane, have now been upgraded to a Level 2 Evacuation.
Areas south from the following line. SR 97, from Bettas Road intersection, follow the BPA Powerlines west to Hayward Road, and SR 10 intersection has been downgraded to a Level 2 Evacuation.
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