Cause of Oct. 22 blaze under investigation
A brush fire fueled by strong winds threatened homes in the Benson Creek area south of Twisp on Saturday afternoon (Oct. 22) after igniting near the intersection of Highway 153 and Benson Creek Road around 3 p.m.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Rusty Stamps, assistant chief of Okanogan County Fire District 6.
The fire moved rapidly uphill through dry brush, driven by sustained winds of 10-15 miles per hour. It crested a ridge and headed for Yellow Jacket Road, threatening three or four residences, Stamps said.
An engine crew from the District 6 Winthrop station was nearby, working on a smoldering wood chip fire on property behind the Blue Star Coffee Roasters building, when the Benson Creek fire was reported and was the first to arrive.
“As crews got closer they saw it was spreading to the south-southeast. It was over an acre when they arrived. The winds pushed it upwards of four to six acres,” Stamps said.
As the fire began threatening residences, crews from DNR and the U.S. Forest Service were called to assist. A call for a DNR helicopter and bucket went out just before 3:30 p.m. The helicopter worked to provide structure protection and slow the fire’s forward progress, Stamps said.
The strong winds made the fire’s behavior erratic, throwing embers and creating spot fires. Firefighters fought the fire in deep brush on steep terrain, Stamps said.
Level 2 evacuation notices were issued to residents by local law enforcement agencies, but most residents chose to stay at their homes, Stamps said. “A lot of folks have year-round water, and were turning their water on and watering fields,” he said.
No property damage
The fire came to within 15 feet of some residences, Stamps said, but no property was damaged. District 6 also credited Firewise landscaping for helping protect residences.
District 6 had 10 firefighting vehicles at the fire, and another three vehicles were provided by DNR and the Forest Service, Stamps said. About 35 firefighters were at the fire, he said.
When the sun went down the winds calmed and temperatures dropped. By 8:30 p.m. fire crews began leaving and temperatures were in the 40s, Stamps said. He estimated about 75-100 acres of mostly brush and grass were burned.
While District 6 crews were responding to the Benson Creek fire, another call came in for a fire at 200 Twisp River Road where a burn pile had gotten too big, Stamps said. An engine from the Twisp station responded to that fire.
Stamps noted that outdoor burning restrictions prohibiting open fires were still in place in Okanogan County as of Tuesday (Oct. 25). The danger of wildfires in the Methow Valley generally persists “until the day when it rains or snows on us,” Stamps said.