Chimney fire started White Swan conflagration

White Swan, Washington (AP) February 2011

Officials suspect a chimney fire at White Swan started the wildfire that destroyed 18 homes on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Yakama Nation Fire Management Officer Don Jones told the Yakima Herald-Republic that winds were blowing so hard that water from fire hoses was blown away before reaching the flames of the 230-acre fire.

The fire was contained but continued to smolder in a log pile at the Jeld-Wen wood-chipping plant. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Loretta Lucei lost her home in the fire.

“It was a red house before this,” she said. “We have nothing but our car now.”

Hers was a familiar sight in the Second Street neighborhood, where nothing remained of seven homes except ash and rubble. Families combed through the debris hoping to find anything that survived.

Authorities say a chimney fire at a Hitchcock Lane home spread to nearby trees and bushes about 1:30 p.m.. Winds estimated at 50 mph and gusts of more than 70 mph quickly fanned the flames.

“It moved pretty fast. It was just funneled right toward the community of White Swan,” said Yakima County Fire District No. 5 Deputy Chief Allen Walker.

Walker, a fire district veteran of 27 years, called it by far the county’s most devastating fire.

“No place has lost 20 homes,” he said.

Although two firefighters suffered eye irritations from smoke or flying debris, no serious injuries were reported. A preliminary loss estimate isn’t expected for several days.

“It was pretty scary – people coming out crying, knowing that they were going to lose their homes,” said Stacy Lewis, who along with her husband, Jeremy Lewis, helped some people leave. “They had no time – kids walking in tank tops carrying a baby in a blanket. They had no time.”

Nearby, Barbara Martin hoped family members would find something worth salvaging from her destroyed home.

Her eyes moistened as she looked at her sister, whose home just two doors down from hers was also destroyed. Both had lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.

“It kind of hurts,” she said. “It’s got a lot of memories.”

But no one was injured, and she was happy about that. Her three grandchildren, ages 3, 5 and 3 months, were at her home when the fire tore into the neighborhood. She is glad everyone escaped.

“There’s a lot of memories in that house – family pictures that can’t be replaced,” she said. “But nothing is more valuable than the grandchildren.”

Martin, her husband and grandchildren plan to stay temporarily at her mother’s house on Hawk Road, southwest of White Swan.