Evacuations have been canceled in Grant County as crews continue to battle the state’s first big wildfire of the year, which had burned more than 20,000 acres but was 65% contained Thursday night.
The blaze, which is being called the 243 Fire, is the first to require additional firefighting resources mobilized by the state. About 350 people had been working to put out the fire, but response was downsized Thursday evening to two engines and two crews, according to officials overseeing the firefighting efforts. They estimated it might be fully contained by Friday evening, according to InciWeb.
About 25 households had been evacuated near Beverly, Schawana and Wanapum Village, according to county officials. Some outbuildings have been lost but no residences. All evacuations notices were canceled Thursday night, according to a tweet from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. Crews will continue to fight the fire overnight and Friday.
No cause has been reported for the fire. Justin Bishop, a dispatcher at the Washington Department of Natural Resources Central Washington Interagency Communications Center, said it started around 11 p.m. Monday south of Wanapum and quickly spread to the east, moving south of Highway 26. It had grown to 5,000 acres by Tuesday night, according to Cascadia Emergency Management.
“(Wednesday) afternoon, the fire was tested with a strong wind,” officials wrote in a Thursday post on InciWeb. “Our lines held and the fire did not get the upper hand. Even though there was a sprinkling of rain Wednesday afternoon, it had no effect on the fire.”
Crews will continue working the perimeter of the fire, methodically hunting down and extinguishing hot spots to thicken the perimeter to 100 feet from the fire’s edge, the post said.
“The plan is to have the fire’s footprint surrounded by a wide, cool outer ring, with no burnable material. Inside this perimeter, the fire’s footprint may still have some spots of heat,” the post said. “This mop-up process can only be done by hand. It is a dirty job.”
Wildfire season has been starting earlier in Washington state, and officials are expecting a busy one this year.
“With snowpack under half of normal and a hot, dry summer ahead, we’re looking at another record-setting fire season,” Hilary Franz, the state commissioner of public lands, said in a written statement released Tuesday. “We had a wet winter that made grasses grow thick and tall. Now, a dry spring has turned these grasses into fuel for wildfires like we see today.”
Franz also said wildfires are worsening around the region and the fire season is getting longer.