At least 64 buildings destroyed so far in Monastery Fire

GOLDENDALE -- Residents in tinder-dry forests near Satus Pass got word Friday that 64 structures had burned in the ongoing Monastery Fire, a harsh reminder Friday that the area's wildfire season is far from over.

Hundreds of residents in the south-central part of the state have been evacuated because of the fire, which has burned more than 6 square miles in an area about 20 miles north of the Columbia River and 10 miles north of the city of Goldendale.

Firefighters gained some ground Friday and the fire was 20 percent contained. More accurate mapping reduced the fire's overall size to 4,215 acres, or more than 6 square miles.

More than 25 firefighters, including division supervisors and strike team leaders from the Tri-Cities, Prosser and Walla Walla, are helping out in Goldendale as part of the state mobilization.

Agencies who sent personnel so far include Kennewick fire, Benton fire districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, Franklin Fire District 3, and Walla Walla fire districts 4 and 5.

Though winds were light, conditions were far from ideal firefighters on the lines, with high temperatures in the 90s, low humidity and terrain that ranged from flat lands of dry grasses to steep canyons with thick stands of Ponderosa pines. Exactly how many of the 64 structures were homes remained unclear, but fire officials had earlier confirmed that nine homes had burned and that number was certain to grow, said spokesman Guy Giffords.

Evacuated residents had been shown maps of areas that have burned, he said, and were aware whether their homes had been lost or saved.

The fire started Wednesday along Highway 97 across the street from a Greek Orthodox monastery. The 19 nuns and employees who operate a well-known bakery there saw flames and immediately ran outside with water, rakes and rags to try to beat back the fire. The buildings at the monastery were saved, fire officials said, but the fire grew quickly from there.