A wildfire that spread onto the Hanford nuclear reservation, called the Silver Dollar Fire, burned an estimated 20,000 acres in Yakima and Benton counties by Monday afternoon, mostly to the west of Hanford.
The fire was reported about 35 miles east of Yakima at noon Sunday and spread toward the east, driven by the wind.
It crossed onto the Hanford Reach National Monument south of the Vernita Bridge in the McGee Ranch area and then crossed Highway 24 onto the production portion of Hanford.
The Hanford Fire Department had it contained on the nuclear reservation at 6 a.m., with no structures or contaminated areas burned, said Rae Moss of Department of Energy contractor Mission Support Alliance.
Firefighters cut a disk line around the fire at Hanford, Moss said. Flames were still visible within the disk line Monday morning, but by late afternoon firefighters were doing mop up and surveillance. No estimate of the acreage burned at Hanford was available Monday.
The fire continued to burn Monday afternoon on the Hanford Reach National Monument to the north and west of Highway 24.
The blaze overall was about 30 percent contained Monday afternoon, said Jacob Welsh, information officer for the Silver Dollar Fire.
No structures had burned, but homes, orchards, vineyards and power lines were threatened.
The precise location where the fire started and its cause had not been determined Monday.
It spread rapidly through brush and grass Sunday.
Initially, the fire was fought by the Hanford Fire Department and the Bureau of Land Management. At 6 a.m. Monday a Type 3 incident management team based at the Vernita Bridge rest area took control.
Plans were being made Monday afternoon to also open a command post at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
Bulldozers were used to clear containment lines and ground crews conducted burnouts. Air tankers and helicopters dropped water and fire retardant, according to information from the incident command team.
About 400 people were assigned to the response.
The fire is at risk of burning until there is some relief from hot, dry weather with low humidity, Welsh said.
An unusually wet winter followed by a cool and wet spring lengthened the growing season this year. Grass grew taller before it dried out, providing more fire fuel than usual, Welsh said.
An evacuation order for a remote area of Benton County, the Barrell Springs area, had been lifted by Monday afternoon.
Highway 240 was closed at the Hanford Yakima Barricade to the junction of Highway 225 Monday, reopening at 6 p.m.. Highway 24 also was reopened from the Silver Dollar Cafe to the Vernita Bridge at 6 p.m..
Water from the Columbia River was being used to fight the fire from the air.
The river was closed to boaters Monday starting at 8 a.m. about three miles downstream from the Vernita Bridge to allow water to be collected from the river. The closure extended up the river to the Priest Rapids Dam. Benton and Grant county sheriff’s deputies were blocking and patrolling the closed section of the river.
Later in the day, the closure was switched to the area above Priest Rapids Dam as aircraft found it to be a safer place to dip water.
The Columbia River’s White Bluffs boat launch on the Hanford Reach National Monument also was closed Monday afternoon as a precaution.
No time to reopen the launch was set, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were hoping conditions would be safe enough to reopen it for the Fourth of July. Updates will be available by calling a hotline at 509-546-8325.
At just after midnight Monday morning, Hanford workers not essential to the site’s safety or security were ordered to leave using the southern exit, the Wye Barricade. Few workers were on site.
Nonessential Hanford workers, with the exception of those based in town or the southernmost part of the nuclear reservation, were instructed to report to work late Monday morning because of the fire. Only the Wye Barricade security entrance was opened.
Workers were told to use caution because of emergency vehicles and smoke.
Mid-Columbia residents can expect to see smoke over the next several days from the fire.