FEMA funds to help fight Benton County wildfire

Firefighters work to contain a bushfire off of State Route 24 near Moxee, Wash., Sunday, Aug. 1, 2016. The brush fire started Saturday on Yakima Training Center land. (Sofia Jaramillo/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

A wildfire burning toward the Hanford nuclear reservation scorched about 110 square miles of brush and grass Monday as it spread from Yakima County into Benton County.

The blaze, the largest of several wildfires in central and eastern Washington, began Saturday on the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center and quickly grew in size over the weekend.

Key developments: 

  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman on Monday says low winds help with slowing fire progression.
  • A Red Flag Warning (critical fire weather conditions) will be in effect for much of Eastern Washington Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • FEMA funds will help with firefighting costs for the South Ward Gap Fire burning in Benton County. 
  • At the time of the FEMA request, the fire was threatening 275 primary homes outside Prosser. 
  • Campgrounds were evacuated over the weekend along the Naches River. 

Fire's progression is slowing down

Fire lines set overnight and low winds Monday are helping to slow the fire's progression, said Randall Rishe, a spokesman with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The cause is being investigated.

Crews were able to keep the fire west of Highway 240 by burning up grass and other fuel along there, he said, and away from contaminated areas within the 586-square mile Hanford site north of Richland. Hanford once made plutonium for nuclear weapons and is now undergoing a decades-long cleanup.

Video released Monday shows the fire.

"We do not see it progressing any further east," Rishe said. "Our containment lines are in place, the burnout was successful on Highway 240, so the potential for fire danger in that area is very low at this time.

A section of State Route 24 near Hanford that had been closed also reopened Monday, a state transportation official said.




Crews work fire outside Prosser

Meanwhile, fire crews were fighting another blaze that scorched more than 9 square miles of grassland outside of Prosser.

Local crews were able to protect homes threatened by the fire, and all evacuation orders were lifted Monday morning, said Marcus Deyerin, a spokesman with the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team. One outbuilding burned.

Emergency shelters that opened in Yakima County to response to both fires are now closed, said Kent Katlin, a spokesman for Yakima County Emergency Management.

FEMA provides funds

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the South Ward Gap Fire burning in Benton County, Washington.

FEMA Region X Regional Administrator Kenneth D. Murphy determined that the fire threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster. Murphy approved the state of Washington’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) at 12:19 a.m. PDT on August 1, 2016.

At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 275 primary homes in and around the community of Prosser, and neighboring areas, with a total population of approximately 6,000.

Campgrounds evacuated over weekend

Several campgrounds along the Naches River were evacuated Sunday evening as a wildfire burned in thick forest about 25 miles west of Yakima, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Robin DeMario.

  • About 100 people at Camp Roganunda, a Christian camping facility, and others at two federal campgrounds were told to leave the area, and an additional 25 homes in the area were also evacuated, DeMario said.
  • State Route 410 remained open but travelers are advised to be careful because of firefighting operations in the area.

No structures have burned and no injuries have been reported. The cause of the 100-acre fire, which started Sunday evening, is under investigation, DeMario said.