Large wildfire breaks out near Vantage

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Federal grant approved to offset firefighting costs

By RICHARD BYRD

Staff Writer

VANTAGE — A large wildfire burning in Kittitas County forced officials to shut down Interstate 90 in both directions on Tuesday and prompted evacuation notices to be sent out for the town of Vantage.

The fire, dubbed the Ryegrass Coulee Fire, broke out late Monday night with first resources dispatched about 11 p.m. A Level 3 evacuation notice, which indicates an area is in immediate danger and people need to evacuate immediately, went sent out for over 100 homes in the town of Vantage as the fire grew in size overnight. A shelter was setup by the American Red Cross at the George Community Hall in George for evacuees. The Level 3 notice was dropped to a Level 2 on Tuesday and police began letting Vantage residents return home with a warning to be alert in the event that fire conditions changed.

Interstate 90 was closed eastbound about six miles east of Ellensburg and westbound at the state Route 26 turnoff on the east side of the Vantage Bridge. The interstate was reopened in both directions about noon on Tuesday. State firefighting assistance was approved to aide firefighters at the scene and a Type 3 Incident Management Team was dispatched to take command of the blaze.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 10 Administrator Mike O’Hare approved Washington’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG), which is the first FMAG declaration during Washington’s 2018 fire season.

“FMAGs are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and are made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies,” reads a press release from FEMA. “In addition to reimbursement funding for fighting the Ryegrass Coulee Fire, under the FMAG declaration the state of Washington will be eligible for an additional $566,667 in assistance through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).”

The Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park was closed until further notice as officials from the state parks department assessed damage to the area. As of Tuesday afternoon the fire was reported to be at zero percent containment and had burned around 1,000 acres. The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office said a 4.5 miles stretch north and south of I-90 was scorched by the blaze.

There has been no reports of the fire crossing the Columbia River and burning on the Grant County side of the river. Grant County firefighters protected the Grant County side throughout the day on Tuesday, due to winds pushing embers across the Columbia. There was no reported injuries and at least one structure was destroyed.

Richard Byrd can be reached via email at city@columbiabasinherald.com.

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