Wahluke Slope Fire in mop-up stages

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Emry Dinman/Columbia Basin Herald A 12,000-acre fire, suspected to have been started by a lightning storm late Friday night, scorched both sides of the Saddle Mountain range through Saturday.

A brush fire that started Friday night burned at least 13,000 acres along the Saddle Mountain area north of Wahluke. As of noon on Sunday, the fire was 75 percent contained and mostly tamped out, except for small smoldering hot spots. There has been no additional fire perimeter growth since late last night, and the fire is currently in the mop up stages, according to officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Saddle Mountain area.

Fire officials say the cause of the fire has not been determined, but is suspected to have been caused by a lightning storm. A storm system that dropped rain on some parts of western Grant County Friday night brought only dry lightning to the Saddle Mountain.

Fire crews tended to the blaze throughout the night, digging fire lines and keeping an eye out for flare-ups, according to fire officials.

A Level 1 (get ready) evacuation notice was issued for residents along state Route 26 near the border between Adams and Grant counties Saturday, but has since been canceled.

What were originally two separate fires started shortly after 11 p.m. Friday night on the south slope of the Saddle Mountains near state Route 24, milepost 59.

Each fire was initially separated by an east-west running irrigation channel but then merged, and were being treated by fire officials singularly as the Wahluke Slope Fire. The blaze then passed northward over the top of the mountains.

Strong gusts during the storm contributed to the twin blazes’ rapid growth, which had reached 11,000 acres as of this morning. Winds had died down Saturday morning but picked back up by the afternoon. Plant density and dried vegetation in the area also posed a high risk.

The mountainous area created difficulties for firefighters trying to fight the fire, according to fire officials. A fire-bomber was deployed to drop retardant on the fire with helicopter support, according to Central Washington Dispatch officials. The ochre line along the blaze’s western edge where retardant was dumped helped prevent the fire from moving further toward Royal City.

The fire south of the mountains was managed under Unified Command of Adams Fire District No. 5 and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On the north side of the mountains, Grant County Fire District No. 3, 5, 10 and 11 were at the scene, according to fire officials.

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