Model rocket started Tuesday blaze in south Kennewick

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldJune 12, 2013 

A model rocket is believed to have started the Tuesday brush fire in south Kennewick that scorched about 1,000 acres and threatened 52 homes, officials said.

A father and his four children set off a 3-foot rocket in the backyard of their home near Clodfelter Road and East 297 Private Road on Tuesday afternoon, said the Benton County Sheriff's Office. When the rocket came down, it landed in brush and started the fire.

The father tried to put out the fire with his tractor, but strong winds carried sparks and it began to spread through the dry brush, officials said.

"If there was no wind (Tuesday), that would have been a two- to three-acre fire," said Benton Fire District 1 Capt. Devin Helland.

On Wednesday, two engines patrolled south Kennewick and Finley, where another fire broke out Tuesday evening, to put out hot spots and make sure fires didn't flare up, Helland said. Calls still were coming in to 911 throughout Wednesday about smoldering piles of brush.

"The fire danger is high right now," Helland said. "Summer is here. It's dry."

He warned residents to be smart and use caution when dealing with materials that can generate a spark.

No injuries were reported in either fire and no homes were damaged, though flames damaged some fences and sheds, Helland said.

In Kennewick, fire crews were able to save 52 homes. Authorities shut down nearby roads, keeping residents from their homes. They were told to shut their windows to keep out smoke and some left as the fire burned close by.

Fire crews had the Kennewick fire 95 percent controlled by about 10 p.m., even as resources shifted to the Finley fire that burned near Tessenderlo Kerley fertilizer plant.

Authorities said they believe a BNSF Railway train sparked a fire along the tracks that spread toward the plant and surrounding properties.

The fire burned from Hover Park to Cochran Road with small brush fires lining the railroad and larger fires burning near the plant, Helland said. Officials couldn't estimate how many acres burned, he said.

Though machinery burned on property near the fertilizer plant, fire crews were not concerned the fire would spread there because of its fire suppression capabilities and well-trained crew, Helland said.

The fire never threatened the facility and crews focused on containing the brush fire from spreading to houses, Helland said. It was under control before 11 p.m.

"An outside wildland fire getting that plant would be near impossible," he said.

The plant was shut down as a precaution and some of the plant's 25 employees helped connect firefighters to the plant's fire water system, said Robbie Inouye, plant manager.

The plant was back up and running normally Wednesday.

Quick responses from the various agencies, teamwork from firefighters on the ground and support from on scene commanders kept residents safe, Helland said.

A total of 38 fire trucks and between 130 and 140 firefighters fought both fires, Helland said. Every agency in the Tri-Cities, as well as multiple agencies from Yakima and Walla Walla, helped.

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