The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

Wheat Fire Threatens Homes but is Quickly Contained

Eighteen agencies join forces to quench the blaze


August 10, 2017

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Carpenter

An almost 1300 acre wheat fire threatened homes in Weller Canyon, causing evacuations Saturday afternoon. Eighteen different fire agencies responded to the blaze which was quickly contained without incident. Above: Fire crews clean up hot spots at the Weller Canyon/Whetstone fire after the fire was contained, early Saturday evening.

WAITSBURG – A fast-moving wheat fire northwest of Waitsburg resulted in about 12 Weller Canyon homes being evacuated Saturday afternoon, but thanks to a fast-acting command and support from area agencies, the blaze was quickly contained. The 1280 acre fire burned mostly conservation reserve program (CRP) land and there was no known loss of structure or equipment according to Columbia-Walla Walla Fire No. 2 Assistant Chief Brian Callahan who served as Incident Command.

The fire started about two miles northwest of Waitsburg and quickly moved northeast into CRP ground. Callahan said the call came in at 11:48 a.m. and by the time they reached the scene approximately 100-150 acres had been burned and the fire was moving "very, very quickly."

Callahan said he quickly designated the fire a three-alarm fire, calling additional resources in to Weller Canyon to protect the homes there.

"The CRP burns quickly and provides a lot of fuel and the fire was traveling down a steep canyon that is hard to get into to fight," Callahan said.

Once he topped a hill where he could get an overall view, he took the fire to the maximum six alarms, notified the Columbia County Department of Emergency Management, and requested a strike team from Benton-Franklin counties.

"We had the paperwork filled out to request state mobilization. We had notified WSP and a regional coordinator that state mobilization could be pending. We were able to contain the fire in Weller Canyon and the north end, so we called them back and notified them that we had the fire under control," he said.

Callahan said that 18 different fire agencies were on scene with 42 fire apparatus and approximately 84 personnel. A "large group" of farmers joined a dozer from Walla Walla Fire No. 4 to disc containment lines around all edges of the fire and some properties.

"It's pretty amazing what we can get for help from this southeast corner as part of our quad-county mutual aid agreement," Callahan said.

The majority of the fire was out by 4:03 Saturday afternoon, and officially categorized as 100% contained at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, Callahan said.

The fire, caused by harvest equipment, burned 10-20 acres of standing grain before heading into CRP land. Callahan said he wasn't aware of any other losses, to either equipment or property.

Callahan said Fire No. 2 hasn't been "overly busy" this summer but said it is still early in the harvest season, especially with this year's delayed start.

"We tend to start seeing fires mid to late season when equipment begins to wear out and fail. And the week of hot, dry weather doesn't help the cause at all," he said.


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