By Marcy Stamper
The Canyon Creek Fire, which burned 1,200 acres north of Carlton in July, was “suspicious in nature,” said investigators, but they were unable to determine a specific cause of the fire. They completed their investigation Sept. 7.
In his final investigation report, John McDonald, a wildland fire investigator with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), ruled out lightning, a campfire, smoking, and debris burning as causes of the fire.
Investigators with DNR and the U.S. Forest Service arrived at the scene just hours after the fire started on July 15. The fire was first reported by the Leecher Lookout at 12:29 p.m.
Dave Graves, an officer with the Forest Service, had already secured the area where the fire originated when DNR investigator trainee Matt Bryan arrived. Bryan was on scene two hours after the fire began.
Graves had also taken a witness statement from Rebecca Treise, who lives on Highway 153 and was mowing her lawn when she saw a two-tone Ford truck pulling farm equipment and heading north on the highway. Because the truck was moving slowly, with three or four vehicles behind it, the truck moved closer to the side of the road to let the vehicles pass, said Treise. “Approximately two minutes later I looked up and saw flames above the road,” she wrote.
Treise went to a nearby house to ask them to call 911 and grabbed her hose, but it was too short to reach across the road. “The fire had moved north too quickly and I was not fast enough,” she wrote. There were no other witnesses.
Bryan relieved Graves so he could assist with evacuations and then surveyed and secured the area on the east side of Highway 153 where the fire started. McDonald arrived at 6 p.m. and he and Bryan scoured the origin area for evidence, flagged it and took photos. The origin area was about 6-by-10 feet on the east-side ditch of the roadway, said McDonald. They finished around 9 p.m.
The ignition area was consistent with Treise’s description. “The pickup pulled over in the area that was determined to be the General Origin Area to let cars go by,” wrote McDonald.
McDonald and Bryan conducted a detailed investigation with a magnet and magnifying glass but didn’t find any ignition source. They found a piece of corrugated cardboard that had been consumed by the fire, but no other paper or cardboard in the vicinity. Bryan said there were no traces of an ignition device near the cardboard. They also identified “a footprint of smashed-down vegetation near the ignition area that occurred before the fire started,” wrote Bryan.
The Canyon Creek Fire was the first significant fire of the 2017 season. It spread quickly in dry grass, heavy brush and light timber near Carlton and Texas Creek, heading north and east along Highway 153 to Benson Creek. About 100 homes were threatened and residents from Carlton to Benson Creek were ordered to evacuate.
Almost all 1,200 acres burned on the first day. The fire was declared contained a few days after it started.
The fire burned one abandoned house and an outbuilding. The house became uninhabitable after it was damaged by a mudslide after the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014.
The fire burned utility poles, resulting in a short power outage, and closed part of the highway.