Motorcycle crash near Hanford sparks wildfire

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldJuly 20, 2012 

A motorcycle crash sparked a fire Thursday that burned about 3,000 acres near Hanford and prompted parts of highways 24 and 241 to be closed for most of the day.

Just before sunset, Mid-Columbia firefighters gained the upper hand on a small blaze south of Benton City that was believed to have been touched off by lightning.

The Hanford fire that started near the intersections of highways 24 and 241 after the 11:15 a.m. wreck moved southwest into the Rattlesnake Hills area. The area includes land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the state and private owners.

"There are homes in the area. We do have structure protection in place," said Dennis Strange, fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management. "I don't know how many homes or status. I haven't been notified of any structures lost."

About 150 to 200 firefighters were fighting the fire from local fire districts, including Hanford fire and Benton fire districts 1, 2 and 4, and federal and state resources.

Two helicopters and a small tanker plane also were being used to fight the blaze from above, Strange said.

Crews expected to have the fire under control within the next 24 hours as long as the weather cooperated overnight, Strange told the Herald.

He credited the interagency cooperation on the fire and said it's incidents like this where the joint training is beneficial.

"That's why we like working together, so there's not one entity having to take it all," Strange said.

The fire forced the closure of Highway 24 at the Hanford gate to milepost 15, which is about 10 miles from Moxee. Highway 241 was closed about four miles north of Sunnyside to Highway 24.

A motorcycle crash caused by riding with the wheels off the road sparked the fire, the Washington State Patrol said.

Timothy Wilson, 52, of Cashmere, was on his 2003 Harley-Davidson going south on Highway 241, when he lost control of the bike near the intersection with Highway 24, troopers said.

Wilson and his passenger, Cheryl Roberts, 54, of Cashmere, were thrown from the Harley.

They were taken to Yakima Memorial Hospital. Roberts then was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The state patrol, along with Hanford Fire and Hanford Patrol, responded to the crash.

Shortly before the Yakima County highways were re-opened, Benton County firefighters gained control of the lightning-sparked fire near Benton City.

By 8:30 p.m., units were being sent home.

Crews from Benton County Fire Districts 1 and 4 began working the scene at 6:20 p.m.

Early estimates were that more than 50 acres were scorched.

The fire was near McBee, Dennis and Webber Canyon roads south of Benton City and the town of Kiona.

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