Fire scorched about 250 acres at Candy Mountain early Friday, prompting the evacuation of dozens of nearby homes.
One firefighter suffered an eye injury while battling the blaze, but no one else was hurt and no houses or other buildings were damaged.
By the time fire crews had the wildfire contained at 6:30 a.m., 90 percent of Candy Mountain was blackened.
The nearly 1,400-foot hill is a familiar and beloved part of the Tri-Cities landscape — and a popular recreation spot.
Despite the damage, the new and long-awaited trail from Dallas Road to the summit is still passable, said Adam Fyall, sustainable development manager for Benton County. The Candy Mountain Preserve and Trail is joint venture between the county and Friends of Badger Mountain.
Fyall said the lower part of the preserve and trail escaped significant damage, while the upper part was burned.
“This was a fast-moving cheatgrass fire that doesn’t appear to have settled-in for a slow, hot burn. We’ll hope that means it looks worse than it was, and that many of the perennial shrubs and bunchgrasses will be able to rebound,” the county parks department wrote on Facebook.
“We are not closing the trail. We always ask that users stay on the trail, but especially now because the landscape is so particularly vulnerable,” the post said.
“There are a couple of bench and monument installations scheduled to happen in the coming weeks and those will go on as planned” and the county may look to do restoration work in the fall and winter in coordination with Friends of Badger Mountain and Columbia Basin Native Plant Society.
Dozens of firefighters and police from around the Tri-Cities quickly responded Friday when the flames were reported about 12:20 a.m.
Firefighters began working to contain the fast-moving blaze, which started along Interstate 82 near where Interstate 182 merges east of Benton City. The wind-driven fire ripped up the south side of Candy Mountain, also burning the west and east sides.
Meanwhile, police officers began evacuating people living north and south of Kennedy Road around the intersection with Candy Mountain Avenue.
An estimated 25 to 50 homes were evacuated, starting about 12:30 a.m., said West Richland Police Chief Ben Majetich.
Officers from the Richland Police Department and Benton County Sheriff’s Office helped his department notify residents.
“Officers went door-to-door, knocking. They did it very fast,” Majetich told the Herald. “Some people stayed in place, but a lot of people did leave.”
The Bombing Range Sports Complex became a temporary shelter for evacuees. Residents were able to start returning to their homes between 4:30 and 5 a.m.
Firefighters had much of the blaze under control by 3 a.m., with total containment at 6:30 a.m., said Capt. Ed Dunbar of Benton County Fire District 4.
The fire appears to have been sparked accidentally, perhaps by car debris — like from a tire blowout — on the interstate, Dunbar said.
He praised the quick reaction and hard work of emergency crews. “They did an excellent job getting this taken care of,” he said.
Along with Benton Fire District 4, firefighters from Benton Fire Districts 1 and 2, Franklin Fire District 3, Walla Walla Fire District 5, West Benton Fire & Rescue and the Richland and Hanford fire departments also battled the blaze.
Dunbar estimated between 75 and 80 firefighters were on scene all told.