ROYAL CITY, Wash. — A wildfire in southern Grant County burned 20,380 acres of mostly state-owned sagebrush and grass with minimal loss to agriculture.
Fire officials reported the fire at 5,000 acres when it was largely contained by the evening of June 4, but were apparently counting just the west end of a larger area. An accurate count was not obtained until June 6, said Michael Krueger, an interagency fire spokesman.
A final report, June 7, listed 20,380 acres burned, 85% containment and three outbuildings lost. There was a peak of about 400 firefighters in the early days but just 40 to 45 remained monitoring hot spots on June 10, Krueger said. It was the first wildfire in the state for the season, he said.
The fire started on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation land about four miles east of Wanapum Village and just south of Beverly-Burke Road, said Jeff Clark, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman in Spokane. He said BLM is investigating and did not know if the fire was natural or man-caused.
One of three trestles on the old abandoned Milwaukee Railroad (John Wayne Trail) was destroyed, as were several power poles.
Most of the land burned was in the 24,541-acre Lower Crab Creek Wildlife Area managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Dain Craver, horticulturist at the 600-acre Royal Bluff Orchards, four miles southwest of Royal City, said the orchard lost about 300 Gala apple trees and some deer fencing.
“I had eight guys and myself and we fought for six-and-a-half hours to keep it out of the orchard. Deer, birds and a cougar covered in soot all came running out,” Craver said.
They fought with shovels and hoses hooked up to irrigation lines and one 800-gallon and two 400-gallon water tanks pulled by tractors to try to keep the fence line wet, he said.
“They were warriors. They worked hard. It could have been a lot worse,” Craver said.
The orchard was drier than usual in an effort to fight fire blight disease, he said. He estimated damage at more than $10,000 and said his first priority is replacing deer fence because deer, having nothing to eat, will overtake the orchard otherwise.
Rancher Ryan Stewart said he lost only about 10 acres of leased grazing ground and a quarter to a half mile of fence.
“I was lucky it didn’t get roaring right below where it was. It burned everything right down to the dirt to my fence line and then stopped. It ran out of fuel because that area had been grazed down pretty good,” he said.
The fire stopped about a mile from his house after burning approximately 17 miles up Lower Crab Creek from near the town of Beverly and Wanapum Dam.
Lower Crab Creek is in a canyon known for high winds. Winds of 45 mph, which are typical for the canyon, were forecast but fortunately did not materialize, which really helped, Stewart said. Winds were probably 20 to 25 mph, he said.