A large wildfire was burning toward the Hanford nuclear reservation Sunday after spreading from Grant and Yakima counties into Benton County.
It was one of at least five wildfires burning Sunday in Eastern Washington and Oregon, including a 1,000-acre fire that had residents evacuating a rural area near Prosser Sunday evening.
The larger Benton County fire burning toward Hanford, called the Range 12 Fire, was estimated to have burned 60,000 acres — about 94 square miles — by early Sunday evening.
Sunday afternoon it was spreading across an unpopulated area between Highways 240 and 241, according to Benton County Emergency Services.
Firefighters were working to stop the fire before it reached the large wildland security zone maintained around the contaminated portion of the nuclear reservation. The security zone, which includes the peak of Rattlesnake Mountain, is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
“We are going to do everything in our power to hold it,” said Randall Rishe, of the Bureau of Land Management.
A little after noon the, fire spread past a command post set up at the Silver Dollar Cafe near the intersection of Highway 24 and Highway 241, which is about five miles west of the Hanford Reach National Monument. The cafe and command post were saved.
The fire was spreading to the north of there and also burning to the southeast.
Rishe said that as he drove Highway 240 just east of Rattlesnake Mountain late Sunday afternoon, he could see smoke behind it, but no fire visible from the highway. To the west of Highway 240 is the contaminated portion of Hanford.
Winds had died down by late Sunday afternoon, helping with fire suppression efforts, he said.
Earlier in the day, winds were blowing 15 to 20 mph, causing 10-foot-long flames to lay flat against the ground and advance quickly. Under those conditions, little could be done but drop water and fire retardant from helicopters and planes to slow the momentum.
At least four helicopters and three planes were providing air support, Rishe said.
Smoke spread across the Mid-Columbia through the weekend. People with respiratory illnesses, the elderly and young children were encouraged to stay indoors by Benton County Emergency Services. The Benton Clean Air Agency listed the air quality in the Tri-Cities as “moderate” — deteriorated from “good” — for most of Sunday.
Highway 225, also called Horn Road, was closed Sunday morning at the intersections of River Road near Benton City, Acord Road near Benton City and Highway 240, according to Benton County Emergency Services.
In Yakima County, Highway 24 was closed at Mile Post 8.5 west of Moxee, at Sunnyside and at the intersection with Highway 241. They were expected to remain closed overnight Sunday, with conditions re-evaluated Monday.
The fire started about 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Yakima Training Center and quickly spread across more than 15,000 acres and jumped Highway 24 by Saturday evening.
Bulldozer crews and a water-dropping helicopter were being used to fight the fire in Yakima County.
Yakima County Emergency Management reported one structure had burned as of Sunday morning, but details on the type of structure were not immediately available.
No cause for the fire had been determined Sunday, but much of Eastern Washington had been under a red flag fire warning over the weekend because of hot weather, low humidity and windy weather.
Residents were told to evacuate their homes west of Prosser in the area of Ward Gap and Richards Roads early Sunday evening.
A fire that started Sunday afternoon had grown to 1,000 acres by about 5 p.m., according to Benton County Emergency Services.
The American Red Cross expected to open a shelter at the Housel Middle School in Prosser by 7 p.m.
State fire assistance was being mobilized Sunday evening to help fight the fire. It was threatening homes, crops, power lines and natural resources.
A fire about five miles south of Dayton threatened about 125 residences, timber and crops Saturday night, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Residents of about 100 houses in the area, which include vacation cabins, were told to evacuate. They were allowed to return to their homes Sunday afternoon, with the fire about 80 percent contained.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter at the Dayton Elementary School. The Columbia County Fairgrounds was available to shelter livestock.
The fire started at about 4:41 p.m. Saturday and had grown to 550 acres Sunday.
The fire may have started when a resident on North Touchet Road was cutting brush and a spark ignited, according to preliminary information from Columbia County Emergency Management. The state patrol said the cause remained under investigation.
State fire assistance was mobilized Saturday night at the request of Columbia County Fire District 3. Six wild land strike teams were expected there.
The westbound lanes of Interstate 84 in Oregon east of Pendleton were reopened about 10 a.m. Sunday after lanes in both directions were closed Saturday evening because of a wildfire.
The interstate was opened to eastbound traffic Sunday afternoon. However, traffic was reduced to one lane near the fire and motorists were urged to slow down and use caution because of firefighting equipment in the area.
About 20 homes between Pendleton and La Grande were evacuated. Officials told residents of the small town of Meacham to be ready to leave Sunday afternoon. A Red Cross shelter was opened at Sunrise Middle School in Pendleton.
The fire was burning in grass, brush and Ponderosa pine stands. About 280 firefighters were attacking it and two helicopters and a small aircraft had been deployed.
Firefighters were working to strengthen containment lines for the fire Sunday.
A fire north of Moses Lake burned an estimated 28,000 acres by Sunday and was threatening 25 residences, crops, livestock and sage grouse habitat in Grant County near the town of Wilson Creek.
The fire started about 12:24 p.m. Saturday and the cause is under investigation.
State firefighting resources were being sent to the fire. Five strike teams were expected to help fight the fire.
The Associated Press, Yakima Herald-Republic and Walla Walla Union Bulletin contributed to this story.