Quick-Moving Wildfire in Washington Threatens Homes and Residents

Firefighters in southeastern Washington were working on Tuesday to extinguish a wildfire that has engulfed more than 500 acres since it broke out on Sunday.

Local fire crews first responded to reports of a wildfire at 11:19 a.m. Sunday morning near Underwood, a small town in Skamania County near the state’s border with Oregon. Hot, windy conditions in the afternoon helped fuel the fire’s spread throughout a hillside community overlooking State Route 14, and the Columbia River, which divides Washington and Oregon, fire officials said.

By Monday morning, officials said they had issued evacuation orders for people within a two-mile radius around the fire, which has been named the Tunnel Five Fire.

The National Weather Service in Portland warned of potential wildfire conditions through Wednesday night in the region encompassing parts of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest northwest of the Tunnel Five Fire.

Last year, Washington State, like California, saw a relatively quiet wildfire season compared to record-setting seasons in 2020 and 2021, The Seattle Times reported. But officials in the state feared persistent dry weather conditions this year could lead to a busier fire season, which typically begins in June and ends in September.

An estimated 250 homes were threatened by the Tunnel Five Fire, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which helps monitor wildfires and facilitates coordination between agencies across Oregon and Washington.

The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Sunday night that “several structures have been lost.”

A fire incident commander had estimated that up to 10 homes had been destroyed, but crews were working to verify that figure as they assessed damage Monday, according to Heather Appelhof, a public information officer for the Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team, which comprises agencies that responded to the scene.

Zero percent of the fire had been contained as of Monday, according to officials.

An emergency shelter for evacuees was set up at the local county fairgrounds, officials said, and residents in a neighboring county to the east of the fire were advised to prepare for potential evacuations.

Authorities mobilized five crews, 26 fire engines and a total of 166 emergency workers, along with multiple aircraft to the scene. Firefighting aircraft were scooping water from the nearby river to help put out the flames, the authorities said.

The nearest major population center is White Salmon, a city about two miles east of the Tunnel Five Fire, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Roughly 2,500 people live there, according to Census Reporter.

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