ROYAL CITY — With the combined efforts of almost 400 firefighters across four days and four nights, a fast-moving fire that sparked near Wanapum Dam and Highway 243 last Monday night was brought to heel by the end of the week.
The Highway 243 Fire initially spread rapidly, growing from an estimated 300 to 15,000 acres over the course of the first 24 hours due to high winds pushing the fire east through the Lower Crab Creek canyon before hundreds of firefighters from across the state could converge onto the scene.
Over the course of the next several days, however, the combined force of around a dozen agencies managed to stall and eventually halt the blaze. By Friday, the fire had burned over 20,000 acres and was 85 percent contained, according to fire officials.
The blaze swept through dry grasses and sagebrush, and in areas where the low-lying grasses and shrubbery had burned, hardier Russian olive trees occasionally reignited the fire, according to fire officials.
A number of protected resources were damaged or threatened by the fire, including monarch butterfly breeding grounds and Native American archaeological sites. Farmland, including fruit orchards, and residences were also at risk.
Early on, the fire threatened to push south across a road and towards the near vertical draws of the nearby ridge, which may have encouraged the fire to spread more rapidly and in more difficult terrain. Fire crews managed to prevent the blaze from jumping the road, according to a press release.
By last Wednesday, the fire had slowed significantly and crews worked to widen the containment perimeter, rehabbing the burnt terrain and tamping down hotspots that flared up throughout the day. The fire’s footprint was surrounded by a wide outer ring that was stripped of burnable material to prevent spreading, and hotspots that continued to appear within the perimeter were quickly knocked down.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Emry Dinman can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.