Wildfire burns 8,000 acres north of Richland. Highway 240 closed

Update: Cold Creek wildfire burning on Rattlesnake Mountain. Fire grows to 14,000 acres

A fire on the Hanford Reach National Monument had burned an estimated 8,000 acres northwest of Richland by 7 p.m. Thursday.

Highway 240 from Route 10 near Richland northwest to the Vernita Bridge over the Columbia River was closed to traffic Thursday afternoon as the fire burned near the road.

The fire, named the Cold Creek Fire, also closed Highway 24 between Highway 240 and the Silver Dollar Cafe until early evening.

The fire was burning through wildland west of Highway 240 on a portion of the monument closed to the public, the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, or ALE, which includes Rattlesnake Mountain.

It started as two small fires near Highway 24 that burned together, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By 5 p.m. the fire had burned to about five miles south of the Highway 240 and HIghway 24 intersection, or to about the 118 Road cutoff on the ALE Reserve.

The ALE Reserve is west of Highway 240 and includes the original security zone around the production portion of the Hanford nuclear reservation, which is on the east side of Highway 240.

The fire jumped the highway to the main portion of Hanford at one point, but was quickly put out there, according to Hanford officials.

Cold Creek Fire.jpg
A Washington Department of Transportation map shows where a fire has closed state highways. Washington Department of Transportation

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages ALE, said three helicopters were at the fire about 5:30 p.m. and three heavy air tankers were en route. An incident management team is expected to be assigned to the fire.

Bulldozers were at the fire but were only being used on existing roads to protect the reserve’s habitat as much as possible. Most of the reserve’s land has been largely untouched by humans since it was taken over as a Hanford security perimeter during World War II.

Hanford, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife firefighters were at the fire, along with Benton County Fire District 1, West Benton Fire Rescue and firefighters from Oregon.

An aggressive effort was being made to fight the fire as the Mid-Columbia was under a red flag fire warning, with winds expected to increase fire risk until about 9 p.m. Thursday.

The highway closures meant most Hanford nuclear reservation workers had to leave the site late Thursday afternoon at the Wye Barricade near Richland. The Yakima and Rattlesnake barricades both are on the section of the highway that was closed.

About 5:30 p.m. the Yakima Barricade reopened, but only for traffic headed west on Highway 24.

The barricades are the secure entrances and exits to the secure portions of the Hanford Site.

Firefighters, the Washington State Patrol and Washington Department of Transportation were working to clear the highway Thursday afternoon.

The Department of Transportation did not have an estimate for when the highway will open again.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.