A fire that burned 13 acres and led to nearby roads and Interstate 5 being closed for nearly five hours Thursday is considered “potentially suspicious,” a West Thurston Fire official told The Chronicle Friday morning.
Chief Robert Scott said the fire authority came to the determination due to the blaze’s proximity to a fire near 183rd Avenue two weeks ago and other similarities.
He said anyone with a tip should contact the state Department of Natural Resources. Signs placed near the fire ask potential tipsters to call 1-800-562-6010.
“We’re not saying there’s someone out there starting fires,” Scott said. “We’re just looking into it.”
The fire reportedly started near the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Elderberry Street Southwest in Ground Mound and spread toward Exit 88 from there, prompting a multi-agency response.
The decision to close I-5 and other streets near the fire came out of concern for flammable liquids in the area and low visibility, according to Washington State Patrol (WSP).
WSP was one of several agencies, including West and South Thurston Fire, the Washington state Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Riverside Fire Authority, Grays Harbor Fire District 1 and the City of Tumwater, who responded on the ground and via helicopter on Thursday.
West Thurston Regional Fire Authority received its first call about the situation at 6:22 p.m. on Thursday. WSP responded nine minutes later, at 6:31 p.m.
Five Star Rubbish Removal reported being among the first at the scene and helping direct traffic before authorities could arrive. The business provided The Chronicle with photographs showing flames in close proximity to homes.
All lanes of I-5 were closed at Exit 88 by 7 p.m. The fire was 80% contained as of 9 p.m. on Thursday but the freeway and the Exit 88 ramp weren’t reopened until crews announced the fire was 100% contained at 11:10 p.m.
“As that smoke moves across and we’re trying to get that to stop, we don’t want people driving through that, endangering themselves and the crew,” said West Thurston Fire Public Information Officer Lanette Dyer at the scene Thursday before I-5 was reopened.
Dyer said every ember would need to be extinguished before crews could pack up.
No evacuation orders were needed due to the fire, which Dyer said crews were thankful for. However, that was a small shred of good news in the face of a very tough situation. Fires have been slamming the South and West Thurston County areas recently, with this one marking the fourth to make headlines in just the last month.
Adding to the stress, between 6 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, she said, the department was “hammered” with calls, including a private vehicle fire, an allergic reaction that developed into the patient needing CPR and a vehicle accident.
“Between 7:30 this morning (Thursday) and midnight, (we received) 12 911 calls, and we are not done yet,” West Thurston Fire said in a Facebook post at 12:40 a.m. on Friday. “These are the demands that are placed on your firefighters every day, every week, every year. They never stop.”
With the population growth they have recently seen in the area, this high volume of calls is becoming their “new normal,” Dyer said, especially during the wildland fire season. “We’re exhausting our resources. Crews are exhausted, 24/7 around-the-clock they’re working their tails off.”
Chronicle Reporter Emily Fitzgeraldemail@example.com contributed to this report.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here