Richland wildfires may have begun at homeless camp; damaged over 235 acres

RICHLAND, Wash. — Richland Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Randy Aust provided a debrief of the wildfires at the Yakima River Delta and Columbia Point. His detailed report was presented in front of the Richland City Council during their May 4 meeting and suggested that the fires may have been human-caused.

“The significant amount of dry tinder fuels, all over the ground there, couple that with some erratic winds the fire seemed to be growing in about every direction and didn’t – it wasn’t
making a whole lot of sense at the time,” Aust said.

Warm and dry conditions certainly contributed to the spread of the fires. Aust said that the Yakima River Delta fire was first reported near the west side of SR 240 in Richland. In total, approximately 85 acres of land were damaged, but the fire was contained between the Yakima River and the Tri-City Railroad on land belonging to the Army Corp of Engineers.

Richland fire crews believe that the fire may very easily have been caused by people.

“The fire is still under investigation, however, the preliminary reports; it does appear to be human-caused at this time,” Chief Aust said.

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Investigators located a homeless camp under SR 240 where they discovered cookstoves, fire pits, tents, mattresses, chairs and a deceased cat.

Putting this fire out was especially difficult due to the conditions of the land.

“A lot of this land is marsh, we had firefighters knee high almost waist high trying to get access into this,” Aust said crews had a tough time accessing the area.

One firefighter was transported to Kadlec Regional Medical Center due to severe dehydration and elevated CO levels. Chief Aust confirmed that this firefighter was released from the hospital that night and is back in action now.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE RICHLAND WILDFIRES:

COLUMBIA POINT FIRE:

Investigators believe that the subsequent fire at Columbia Point was sparked by a separate ignition source than the previous fire at the Yakima River Delta. However, many of the same dry and warm conditions applied just one day later when the next set of fires began.

Fire crews responded to the report of one tree on fire, but numerous trees in the area were ablaze by the time first responders arrived. Those crews immediately called for additional resources when they recognized numerous fires spread in the area.

“By the time they made access to Columbia Point, there were actually three additional fire starts in that area that did not look related to the two initial starts,” Aust explained.

Overall, approx. 150 acres burned in the Columbia Point fires, according to Richland fire officials. They do not believe that these fires were related to or caused by the Yakima River Delta fire. Investigators located three homeless camps in the surrounding area of the fires. When the fires were reported, numerous homeless people, hikers and bicyclists quickly evacuated the area.

Over 65 firefighters and 35 fire apparatuses were deployed from across Southeastern Washington. Fire crews responded from all three of the Tri-Cities, Benton County, Franklin County and Walla Walla in addition to Hanford fire crews and Bureau of Land Management first responders.

“Really, we owe the safety of our crews, really and the community both of those days to these support agencies.”

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