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Fire guts 20 homes on Washington Indian reservation

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Firefighters on Sunday were putting out hot spots from a fierce, wind-whipped blaze that gutted 20 homes and forced 300 residents from their dwellings on the Yakama Indian Reservation southeast of Seattle.

Two firefighters sustained minor eye injuries from flying debris while battling the blaze, which began Saturday afternoon when embers from a chimney fire ignited a rooftop and spread to an adjacent lumber yard and surrounding brush, fire officials said.

The flames grew quickly, eventually engulfing 20 homes and four other private structures in White Swan, a village of some 3,200 residents within the 1.3 million-acre reservation. A post office also was damaged.

The blaze was contained by late Sunday morning, and fire crews were starting "mop-up" operations in "what's left of the burning structures," Yakima County Fire Department Captain Dave Martin told Reuters by telephone.

Deputy Fire Chief Allen Walker said he expected it would take several days to completely extinguish the remaining hot spots, especially at a saw mill where stacks of smoldering logs were piled 25 feet high.

Gale-force winds and gusts of up to 80 miles per hour hampered firefighting efforts on Saturday by propelling the spread of the flames while uprooting trees and downing power lines, blocking access to some areas, Martin said.

White Swan, one of the main communities on the Yakama reservation, was placed under a voluntary evacuation at the height of the blaze, and some 300 residents fled their homes. About 50 of them spent the night in emergency shelters.

The Yakama reservation, located in south-central Washington state about 110 miles from Seattle along the eastern slopes of the Cascades, is home to about 10,000 registered tribal members.

At Toppenish Creek Longhouse, where some residents sought shelter overnight, a woman answering the phone on Sunday said she could not talk because a church service was under way there. Loud drums and chanting were audible in the background.

About 90 firefighters were on the scene at the height of the fire, Martin said. On Sunday, fresh crews were brought in to relieve those who answered the initial calls on Saturday.

(Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Steve Gorman)

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