Wildlife refuge fire claims 140 acres

Department of Natural Resources takes over investigation

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The Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the public until further notice, after a brush and grass fire consumed approximately 140 acres near Washougal.

The cause of the fire on Friday is under investigation by the Department of Natural Resources. Camas-Washougal Deputy Fire Marshal Randy Miller said it appears the fire started on the shoulder of state Route 14, which likely points to the careless discarding of a burning or smoldering object by a passing vehicle.

He has heard of other recent fires caused by cigarette butts, in nearby areas.

“The wind fans the flames,” Miller said. “Cigarette butts should not be flicked out the window.”

Crews from the Camas-Washougal Fire Department, East County Fire and Rescue, Skamania Fire District 4 and the Vancouver Fire Department, were dispatched to the refuge entrance at 4:58 p.m. The DNR also responded. In all, there were more than 30 firefighters and 15 fire apparatus assisting in the extinguishment of the fire.

C-W Chief Nick Swinhart said the fire, which quickly spread due to strong easterly winds and the dry conditions, was brought under control around midnight.

“The fire was difficult to fight, due to poor access and the swampy nature of the surrounding area,” he said.

Several buildings in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park were briefly threatened, and the Washougal wastewater treatment plant was successfully defended from damage, according to Swinhart.

No buildings were damaged, and no injuries were reported. Washougal police re-routed SR-14 traffic, away from the fire for several hours.

Three volunteers with the American Red Cross provided food and water for the firefighters.

Port Executive Director David Ripp, his wife Sue and staff from Advanced Drainage Systems helped employees with Washougal Cartridge Company move ammunition from its industrial park building to another port building and to the ADS site Friday night. The products were returned to the cartridge company’s site Saturday.

“Our local firefighters are awesome,” Ripp said. “They were dedicated to making sure any port or privately owned buildings were protected. They did an excellent job.”

The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society put its emergency preparedness plan to use. More than 20 volunteers showed up at the shelter in the port’s industrial park Friday.

Since the dog shelter has open grates and smoke was thickening, all of the canines were sent home for the night with volunteers. The cat shelter is well ventilated, so the felines stayed behind as some individuals remained on standby until the fire was under control.

Washougal City Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay usually enjoys morning walks with friends in the refuge. Monday, they went to Starbucks, in Washougal, instead.

“We drank coffee and talked about the fire,” she said.

The informal group plans to walk the dike trail, Goot Park or Hartwood Park until the refuge reopens.

The Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge includes 1,049 acres. When it is open, visitors can sometimes see mallards, wood ducks, Canada geese, western tanagers, purple martins and cedar waxwings.