Gov. Chris Gregoire met Thursday night with some of the roughly 300 residents driven from their homes by a wildfire that by late in the evening had charred more than 8 square miles, or 5,300 acres, north of Goldendale near Satus Pass.
GOLDENDALE, Klickitat County — Gov. Chris Gregoire met Thursday night with about 50 of the roughly 300 residents driven from their homes by a wildfire that by late in the evening had charred more than 8 square miles, or 5,300 acres, north of Goldendale near Satus Pass.
She assured them the state would do everything it can to protect their homes and property despite a budget crunch.
“The thing I want people to know when they’re evacuated from their homes is we are not going to be cheap about protecting their property,” Gregoire said at the Klickitat County fairgrounds, where the Red Cross set up an evacuation center under the grandstands.
State officials confirmed that nine homes and 10 outbuildings had burned.
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More than 500 firefighters are fighting the blaze that started Wednesday. There is no estimate when it might be contained.
A fire-incident commander described the blaze to the evacuees as “a greased pig rodeo,” blown first in one direction, then another by shifting winds.
In a statement, Gregoire urged people across the state to obey burn barns and “take strong safety precautions.”
Earlier in the day, state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark visited firefighters and flew over the wildfire to assess the damage.
“There’s still a lot of residences in danger, but we’ve got a lot of resources in the air and on the ground,” he said. Washington is experiencing an especially late start to its fire season following a winter with heavy snows and a cool spring.
Like Gregoire, Goldmark urged residents to be especially cautious given the dry conditions. Of the 500 wildfires in Washington this year, roughly 90 percent have been human-caused, he said.
The cause of this fire is under investigation, but residents say a pickup’s muffler may have sparked it.
“We need people to be extra vigilant not to conduct activities that will start fires,” Goldmark said. “They’re obviously very expensive and very destructive of private property and human health.”
The fire was believed to have started along Highway 97 north of Goldendale, just across the street from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner.
Greek Orthodox nuns from the monastery dumped water on smoldering tree trunks and embers grateful for their safety and their still-standing buildings after fire burned around their forested sanctuary.
The 19 nuns and employees, who operate a well-known bakery there, saw flames and immediately ran outside with water, rakes and rags to beat back the fire.
Bakery customers joined in until firefighters arrived, said Sister Parthenia, who has spent 19 years at the monastery.
“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard, even opened up a line up there,” she said. “We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.”
The flames crept up to the edge of their buildings and a cemetery, leaving the wooden crosses.
There were no reports of injuries, said Dale Warriner, interagency management team spokesman. Brooks Memorial State Park is closed. Traffic Thursday was disrupted on Highway 97 between Toppenish and Goldendale.