Local emergency responders fight wildfires

Fire department personnel travel to central Washington

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Washougal Fire Department and East County Fire & Rescue have sent a handful of personnel to fight wildfires in central Washington over the last month.

Washougal sent four of its firefighters, including two paid staff — Butch Steigmann and Chris Kassel — and two volunteers — Adam Strobeck and Rick Nieto — to the Taylor Bridge wildfire in Cle Elum.

ECFR sent three to Taylor Bridge, including Fire Chief Scott Koehler, Deputy Fire Chief Dean Thornberry and Finance Manager Tammy Dinius.

Koehler and Thornberry were sent out to Brewster almost a month ago. On their drive home, they were called to help at a fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

The Taylor Bridge Fire has lasted two weeks and was the biggest fire problem in America for three days, according to Koehler. More than 50 homes have been damaged or destroyed. At one point, more than 400 homes were threatened. The wildfire has burned more than 23,500 acres of land.

At the wildfire’s peak, there were more than 1,000 firefighters at the scene with an Incident Management Team of more than 50 people. As of Monday, the fire is 91 percent contained. The IMT now has 15 people directing approximately 140 firefighters.

The fire should be controlled and quelled by Wednesday, when the volunteers will hand control over to the local firefighters to complete mop up duties and patrol the area.

The wildfire near Brewster threatened more than 50 homes but did not damage them. Over 200 firefighters were at the scene. More than 46,000 acres burned.

Thanks to rapid response, the fire in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Park was limited to 40 acres. But it was in a remote location on a steep slope, and therefore challenged the firefighters, according to Koehler.

Koehler and Thornberry went from Brewster straight to Okanogan-Wenatchee.

“The state doesn’t have enough resources,” explained Koehler. “So they ask us for help. And at no cost to taxpayers.”

The state pays back in full all of the costs involved in volunteering personnel and equipment.

“We get to put our training to work, but we also get to train more,” Koehler added. “We are much better prepared if anything happens at home. It’s really for the benefit of everyone.”