Electric City, Wash., - Nearly 150 firefighters worked in winds gusting to 40 miles per hour yesterday attempting to corral the 29,000-acre Barker Canyon Fire Complex that was started by lightning Saturday night, September 8, at two spots – one approximately 13 miles northwest of Electric City, called the Leahy Fire, and the other along the north shore of Banks Lake, called the Barker Canyon Fire. The fires were combined into one complex on Monday night.
The fires from both starts burned in easterly directions, driven by a dry cold front, yesterday and last night, crossing dozer lines that were created along Smith Road and Highway 174 near its junction with Rex Road near Strahl Canyon. The fire continues to burn in the forested, rocky, steep canyons along the Columbia River north of Black Lake. Two strike teams of engines worked through the night in attempts to contain the fire along Smith Road.
A Level 2 evacuation order is in place today for the entire fire area east of Leahy Junction, north to the Columbia River and south to Sims Corner. State Highway 174 is closed from Leahy Junction to Coulee Dam.
There is no estimated containment for the fire at this time.
According to Dean Warner, fire behavior specialist for Washington Interagency Incident Management Team 4, winds are expected to be far less powerful today, allowing firefighters to continue to secure fire lines and burn out pockets of unburned fuels in an attempt to halt the eastward progression of the fire. "There is a mosaic of fuel types burning at different rates of spread and different intensities," Warner said, "and this situation requires a great deal of awareness on the part of firefighting crews.
The fuels, Warner said, are at the lowest moisture level of the fire season, even though temperatures have been dipping into the low 40s at night and remaining in the mid- 70s during the day.
Early Sunday, initial attack firefighters, managed by the Bureaus of Land Management and Reclamation, worked through the day and night to stop the eastern movement of the fire at Banks Lake that immediately imposed a threat to the City of Coulee Dam. A Level 3 evacuation was ordered for the area north of the canal along its northern limits. That evacuation order has been lifted and there are no others for the towns of Coulee Dam or Grand Coulee at this time.
That fire burned over two electrical substations before being stopped at the Columbia River north of Coulee Dam and west of Elmer City.
Today, the fire is burning hot and slowly along the steep, rocky slopes of the Columbia River directly south of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. The fire has jumped the river in several spots, engaging Tribal firefighting forces from Mount Tolman into the fight.
The firefighting strategy today, according to Larry Nickey, incident commander for the Washington Interagency Incident Management Team, is to secure existing fire lines, burn out unburned fuels that can help further the spread north or east, and protect structures.
In a safety message to firefighters during the morning briefing today, Nickey warned of potential safety issues near electrical lines that transect the fire area. "Smoke from the fire can conduct electricity from the lines down to the ground, so we are advising crews to stay away from them," he said. "Because of the terrain and difficulty in achieving good radio communications, the firefighters have been ordered to work where they can maintain contact with division supervisors," he added.
The Douglas County fire marshal is inspecting the burned-over area for any lost structures. At this time, an unconfirmed three structures have been destroyed by the fire.
Today, State Highway 174 is closed at the Leahy Junction. Traffic will be detoured at the intersection SR 17 to Highway 2 outside Coulee City. The closure will be in effect all day today and be re-evaluated by the Douglas County Sheriff later today.
The Washington Interagency Incident Management Team (WIIMT) #4 is managing the fire under the command of Larry Nickey, incident commander.
Fire Facts – Tuesday, September 11, 2012 – 1000 HOURS
Fire Size: Barker Canyon 18,500 Acres; Leahy 11,000 Acres
Evacuations: Level 2 Evacuation Notices for fire area east of Leahy Junction to the city limits of Grand Coulee – south of the Columbia River to Banks Lake, and along SR 174
Percent Contained: 0%
Fuels: Sparse timber, grass/understory/ bitterbrush, sage, slash, snags and down fuels in draws/canyons
Expected Containment: Not determined
Total Personnel: 250
Total Estimated Cost to Date: