After burning four to five houses in south Kennewick, a wind-driven wildfire was threatening Finley homes Saturday night.
Benton County deputies were going to homes on East Game Farm Road, Oak Road and in the Seal Springs neighborhood, warning them of the approaching blaze.
State fire resources, including two wildland strike teams and specialists from the fire protection bureau, were mobilized to help fight what’s being called the Bofer Canyon Fire.
No serious injuries were reported, but fire officials had yet to be able to check inside some of the burned homes and sheds. Two horses were confirmed killed.
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Officials were asking residents evacuated from the Canyon Lakes neighborhood to return to their houses to help fight hot spots while fire crews were pulled east to protect other houses.
“Severity potential? We could have lost hundreds (of homes), literally hundreds in this wind,” said Kennewick Fire Chief Vince Beasley, who heaped praise on the community and fire and law enforcement officials for coming together.
Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste authorized the mobilization of state firefighting resources at 3:45 p.m. at the request of acting Chief Don Taylor with Benton County Fire District 1.
A state emergency operations center at Camp Murray was activated to coordinate state assistance, and the state fire marshal officials were on their way to Kennewick to help with that coordination.
Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb said an emergency operations center was activated and extra dispatchers were called in to help take emergency calls.
The fire was not under control in Finley by 8 p.m. and was threatening houses, crops and wind turbines.
Wayne and Carol Miller were two of the people caught in the middle of the wildfire.
Wayne, 78, was playing golf at Canyon Lakes when he spotted the flames crest the hill and rushed to his Ely Street home to find his wife fighting the fire.
“I could see it coming from way over there,” Carol said. “So I got a hose out and the flames started coming down at me. “
They escaped before the fire swept through their home.
“We just got out of there and we watched it burn,” she said.
One of the homes reportedly destroyed was a historic home moved from the Columbia River shoreline after being saved from the flood of 1948 to higher ground.
The fire broke out along Bofer Canyon Road at 2:46 p.m. and quickly moved into the Canyon Lakes and Inspiration Estates neighborhoods about 3:15 p.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
One person was reported trapped by fire in his home on 53rd Avenue, but crews were able to pull him out. There were reports of others being helped to escape ahead of the flames.
It’s unclear how many people were evacuated in Kennewick and Finley as the fire quickly consumed the dry grasses.
“At this point, we believe the majority of the fire in the city limits of Kennewick is out,” Kennewick police Sgt. Trever Davis said during a news briefing. “The firefighting assets are pushed to their limit. ... So they have deployed as many firefighters over there to help as possible.”
The fire reportedly reached 42rd Avenue before turning toward Finley. Firefighting planes could be seen circling the blaze about 6:30 p.m.
South Hills Church on 27th Avenue opened its doors to evacuees after a member who works for the Kennewick Police Department said they needed a staging area.
Pastor Brian Stark estimated 15 to 20 people came to the church and they also took in a lot of cats and dogs until the residents were allowed to return to their homes.
They had a chaplain and information, and Stark said he was heartened by the number of people who came by to bring the evacuees snacks, water and food.
“It was a privilege to be part of it,” he said.
Other volunteers brought water, pizza and power drinks to the fire command center on 45th and Ely Street.
Fire officials said the folks who lost their homes had friends and family to rely on in town so the Red Cross was not needed to help them.
Drivers were reportedly stopping on the side of Interstate 82 to snap pictures of the fire but were asked to move.
Fire crews were called in from all the Tri-City area fire agencies, including Kennewick, Richland and Pasco, the rural Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla county fire districts, as well as the Washington State Patrol and other agencies.