2 Richland homes, 9 vehicles damaged by fireworks-suspected blazes. Crews still on ‘high alert’

Fireworks are suspected of igniting the blaze that burned two families out of a duplex in Richland on Thursday.

An elderly woman and a single mom with kids reportedly lost their homes in the fire that also damaged four vehicles and a neighbor’s house.

But on Friday, Tri-Cities fire and police officials said the overall mayhem was about normal for the Independence Day holiday.

Fireworks are suspected of starting brush fires across the Mid-Columbia, the most serious fires were in Richland.

Richland Fire and Emergency Services responded to 39 calls in the 24-hours that began at 8 a.m. Thursday. Sixteen involved fires, said Battalion Chief Curtis Walsh.

The most serious was the 7:30 p.m. duplex fire on 1109 Benham St.

The two-alarm blaze damaged the two-unit home, destroyed a truck, damaged three cars and scorched a neighboring home.

A neighbor told the Herald that his duplex was charred on the outside and most of their belongings were damaged when the fire spread after burning a next-door duplex. His cat was also missing, he said.

The elderly neighbor was not home at the time, according to her son, and the other tenant lost most of her belongings to smoke and water damage, said the neighbor.

A fundraiser has been started on the online site GoFundMe to raise money to help families affected by the fire. The fund was started by Daunevin Richards, who said he lives in the duplex that was charred on the outside.

Fireworks are also suspected of starting a fire Thursday evening in a wildlands area on Tiger Lane in south Richland. That spread into an RV storage yard on Mark Court, damaging five recreational vehicles and travel trailers.

Walsh said both fires are still being investigated.

Aftermath of a fire burning two duplexes on the 1100 block Benham Street in Richland. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Walsh said 16 fire calls is well above average for a normal day, but not for the Fourth of July.

“The Fourth played out similar to other Fourths of July for us,” he said.

While Kennewick bans fireworks, Richland and Pasco allow some types of non-aerial fireworks through 11 p.m., July 5.

Most of Richland’s fires were started either by fireworks touching off grasses and other dry vegetation or by still-hot fireworks improperly placed in garbage cans.

“People have got to be careful,” he said.

Aftermath of a fire burning two duplexes on the 1100 block Benham Street in Richland. Four cars were damaged. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Four fires in Pasco

Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear said the city’s second year of allowing non-aerial fireworks was a surprisingly muted affair.

He said he observed lots of fireworks, but the department responded to only four calls within the city.

One was for legal fireworks being used in a dry field. One involved improper disposal of illegal fireworks that ignited a garbage can.

The others were field fires where the evidence was burned, but fireworks were suspected.

“Fireworks-related fires were down from last year,” Gear said.

Gear isn’t sure what accounts for the drop from 2018. Pasco lifted its ban on fireworks in time for last year’s Fourth of July celebration. He described Pasco as a “war zone” last year.

Gear said weather conditions favored more fires. At 8 p.m., it was 90 degrees with 18 percent humidity and 8 mph winds. It remained hot and dry at 9 p.m., although the wind died down at sunset — the peak time to set of fireworks.

“It was certainly a burn window,” he said.

Gear fears what could happen if people continue to burn them through the holiday weekend.

“I’m concerned about what (Friday night) and (Saturday) night will bring,” he said.

Kennewick ban is working

Kennewick reported a close call for one homeowner on the Fourth. Spent fireworks ignited a garbage can, which ignited arbor vitae and a house. Fortunately, a neighbor spotted the glow and put out the blaze before it could do more serious harm, said Fire Chief Vince Beasley.

Kennewick crews responded to 65 calls on the Fourth, twice the normal volume. A dozen were related to fireworks. The department responded to calls outside of Kennewick through mutual aid agreements with Richland and rural fire departments.

Beasley said that while it was a busy night, there was little property damage or injuries. That validates Kennewick’s move to ban all personal fireworks.

“We were having major fires and we were having fatalities,” he said. “Making it illegal is working.”

Kennewick has increased fire staffing because weather conditions increase the chances of damaging fires.

“We know if we get one ember, one spark, we could have something catastrophic,” he said.

Teen burns shed in Benton County

Benton County Fire District 1’s mix of professional and volunteer firefighters responded to 18 calls on the outskirts of Kennewick Thursday. Most were fireworks related, said spokeswoman Tracy Baker.

All fireworks are illegal in District 1.

Baker said this year’s calls were significantly above 2018, though she hasn’t finalized the numbers.

The most damaging blaze was started by a teen using fireworks near dry vegetation at Third and Oak streets. The brush fire destroyed a 10-by-12-foot shed behind a home.

District officials advise people who plan to use fireworks to be careful around vegetation and to have water readily available. The district remains on high alert through the weekend.

“We know fireworks could still be an issue,” Baker said.

West Richland ‘incredibly busy’

In West Richland, where non-aerial fireworks are legal on the holiday, the fire department responded to 19 calls, including supporting Richland at several fires.

It was an “incredibly” busy day, said Chief Bill Whealan, with Benton County Fire District 4. A typical day usually has five to six calls.

The West Richland calls included an early morning fire on Laurel Drive, where embers from discarded fireworks are suspected of igniting potting soil and threatening the side of a house.

A brush fire near Grand Teton Court also threatened a building.

Whealan also anticipates more fireworks-related calls over this weekend. It is illegal to shoot off any fireworks in West Richland after midnight on July 4.

“From a legal standpoint, no one is supposed to be shooting them off,” he said.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office said it responded to 40 calls about fireworks on Thursday in addition to the reports deputies took in while patrolling.

The sheriff’s office is forwarding two cases to prosecutors for possible charges, said Lt. Jason Erickson. Details were not immediately available.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said it responded to nine calls related fireworks. Violators complied when they were told to stop, they said.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.