Infant dies as family flees blaze
About 465 firefighters have made significant progress toward containment on the Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fires, battling both blazes despite rugged terrain and such smoky conditions that it was often impossible to use aircraft.
According to the fire incident information system InciWeb, the Cold Springs Fire was 60% contained at almost 189,000 acres, an area from Omak to Brewster and on the Colville Reservation, as of Tuesday (Sept. 15). The Pearl Hill Fire was 90% contained at almost 224,000 acres, from Bridgeport to Highway 2 in Douglas County. Containment means there is a line around the perimeter of the fire.
As the Cold Springs Fire raged across parched vegetation south of Omak last week, it took a deadly toll on a young family, killing a 1-year-old boy and leaving his parents with third-degree burns. The fire burned an unknown number of homes and other structures and jumped the Columbia River near Bridgeport, where it ignited the even larger Pearl Hill Fire.
A boat crew with Okanogan County Search and Rescue located Jacob Hyland, age 31, and Jamie Hyland, age 26, and their son, Uriel, on the banks of the Columbia River on Wednesday (Sept. 9). The boy was deceased when the rescue team found them, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said in a press release.
• Long-term recovery for fire survivors: Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group, (509) 846-5101, jessicaOCDCM@gmail.com
• Fund for fire survivors: NCW Fire Relief Fund at Community Foundation of North Central Washington at https://www.cfncw.org, (509) 663-7716
• Updates on evacuations and road closures: Okanogan County Emergency Management countywide advisory map, www.okanogandem.org
• Immediate needs such as food and shelter: Red Cross, (509) 670-5331
• Information or tips about the origin of the fire: Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, (509) 422-7200
The family, from Renton, Washington, had been attempting to flee their property near Cameron Lake, southeast of Okanogan. Sheriff’s deputies found their burned and abandoned vehicle on Tuesday, and a Colville Tribal Department of Natural Resources search and rescue boat crew located the family the next morning, Hawley said.
The Hylands were transported to Harborview Medical Center, where they remain in serious condition in the intensive-care unit.
“My heart breaks for the family of the child who perished in the Cold Springs Fire. I am devastated. The DNR [Washington Department of Natural Resources] family is devastated. The pain that family is going through is unfathomable,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement.
Because the cause and origin of the fire are under investigation by DNR, the Sheriff’s Office is undertaking a serious investigation into the death and injuries, Hawley said in an interview this week. It’s standard practice to treat an incident such as this as a potential homicide and to gather evidence while still possible, he said.
Emergency crews are still surveying the damage and didn’t have a tally of structures lost as of press time.
Record fire starts
The two fires were among 58 ignitions on Labor Day, Franz said at a press conference last week. Although fire crews were able to extinguish most of them, hurricane-force winds whipped up a dozen blazes, causing widespread evacuations and burning homes and power and communications infrastructure. The wind and smoke made it unsafe to use aircraft to suppress the fires, Franz said.
More than 626,000 acres burned on Labor Day, Franz told Okanogan County officials at a meeting last week. In just 72 hours, wildfires had consumed more than half of the acreage burned in the record fire year of 2015, she said.
Because there was no lightning, fire officials believe all the Labor Day weekend fires were human-caused, Franz said.
Even though Washington is the third priority in the country after California and Oregon, there just aren’t any resources left to deploy, DNR State Forester George Geissler told the county officials. More than 32,000 firefighters are deployed across the country, he said.
The fires are affecting all of Washington, not just the normally dry eastern region, Franz said. “This is a new reality we’re living in with the changing climate,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.
Franz and Inslee urged everyone to do their part by complying with statewide burn bans and being mindful of the risk of sparks from vehicles and equipment.
DNR has closed all the lands it manages east of the Cascades because of the severely dry conditions.
Long recovery ahead
The Cold Springs Fire was so widespread that there’s nothing left to burn — and not a lot of mop-up to do — in his district on the Colville Reservation, Okanogan County Fire District 8 Chief Ed Townsend said at the county briefing. They’re concerned about soil damage from the extreme heat, he said.
A Burned Area Emergency Response team will evaluate the area for necessary interventions such as emergency seeding and protections for homes from flooding and debris flows, said Mike Worden, chief of special operations/communications with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
Grazing lands and all fencing and irrigation infrastructure have been wiped out in some areas, particularly above Omak Lake, Townsend said. Veterinarians are treating injured animals at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, but some were so badly burned that they have to be euthanized, he said. Most grazing lands will not be usable for two to three years, Worden said.
All evacuations for the Cold Springs Fire have been reduced to Level 2, but roads in the fire area remain closed to all but local traffic and residents.
The cause of both fires is under investigation.