No power, no phone service. Flames started to spread everywhere around buildings in Kahlotus.
“It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve been through in my life,” said David Wooten, the town’s mayor. “I couldn’t believe how fast (the fire) was going.”
The blaze that started on Copp Road, between Connell and Kahlotus on Highway 260, moved to Kahlotus on Sunday night and Monday morning. Power poles were consumed as winds picked up and flames spread across canyons and hills toward the small dry farming town of 210 residents.
The flames were contained at 100 percent and at least 5,942 acres burned as of Wednesday morning.
Crews from more than 20 fire districts and agencies, which included 32 engines, a helicopter and 120 firefighters, showed up to help volunteer firefighters. No homes, businesses or government buildings were lost, but a hay barn and four other smaller structures burned, Franklin County Emergency Management officials said.
No one was injured, fire officials said. The fire appears to be human-caused, but still under investigation.
Homes, buildings and the local school were also threatened once the fire arrived at the town’s doorstep, said Brian Cochrane, a resident, wheat farmer and volunteer firefighter.
“Within minutes (the fire) just exploded,” Cochrane said. “If we wouldn’t have stopped it ... it would’ve kept going.”
Cochrane, who grew up in Kahlotus and graduated from the elementary and high school, said it was one of the biggest fires he could ever remember.
He and other residents teamed up to protect the school, post office, homes and other structures. They got the help of “anyone who could breathe,” he said.
Within minutes (the fire) just exploded. If we wouldn’t have stopped it ... it would’ve kept going.
Brian Cochrane of Kahlotus
Kahlotus residents were evacuated when the town lost power about 10 p.m. Sunday. Eric Mauseth, chief of Franklin Fire District 1, called for state help at 2:15 a.m. Monday.
Crews came from the Tri-Cities, Grant County, Walla Walla County, Lincoln County and several other agencies.
Mirela Haurdic, who lives at the 500 block of Martin Street, said she had get out with her husband and three children. The flames along the dry hillside reached her fence, but not her yard.
“People were trying to alert everybody to evacuate,” Haurdic said. “We just grabbed whatever we could.”
That included clothes and baby supplies for her 8-month-old twins, Elijah and Lejla.
She spent Sunday night with friends in Kennewick and Monday night with friends in Pasco. The air quality concerned her more than anything.
“The smoke was still bad in the air,” Haurdic said.
The family returned home Tuesday night. Power and phone service wasn’t restored until Wednesday morning, but they were able to use a neighbor’s backup generator for their fridge.
Losing power also affected the town’s water supply and water pumps. However, they had a diesel-fueled backup generator on a truck and a steady diesel supply from farmers and the surrounding community, Wooten said.
Fire operations at the command post at the Connell fire station and base camp at Connell High School were demobilized about noon Wednesday.
All roads in the Kahlotus area are now open, with no restrictions from the fire.
The school building remained untouched. Classes start on Aug. 30 and will not be delayed from the fire, said Connie Smith of Kahlotus Elementary and High School.
Wooten was more than grateful for the outside help his town received.
“I can’t even start naming them all,” Wooten said. “I couldn’t ask for a better community than I have.”
“We all came together and started helping each other,” said Eva Wooten, Dave’s wife. “That’s what counts.”
Eva and others are planning a barbecue for Kahlotus residents and all surrounding community members who helped at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Big City park in Kahlotus.