Okanogan County firefighter injured in Grass Valley Fire battle

Fire closes in on Grand Coulee, forcing Level 3 evacuations. The blaze was stopped short of town.

Majors Creative
Fire closes in on Grand Coulee, forcing Level 3 evacuations. The blaze was stopped short of town.

GRAND COULEE – A firefighter from Okanogan County Fire District No. 8 was injured over the weekend while fighting the Grass Valley Fire in Douglas and Grant counties.

The fire has burned across more than 74,000 acres and forced evacuations in Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam. It was about 10 percent contained as of Sunday evening.

Brett Read, 38, was injured Aug. 11 in Douglas County, said District No. 8 Chief Ed Townsend. Read and another firefighter were trying to leave their work area when the fire unexpectedly intensified.

“Read became separated from the engine he was working on and suffered burns during the incident,” said Townsend. “The second firefighter on Read’s engine was not injured.”

Read was taken to Coulee Medical Center in Grand Coulee and later airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He is listed in satisfactory condition in the burn unit.

Townsend said Read has been a volunteer firefighter with the district for seven years. He lives in the Omak area with his wife and three children

The Grass Valley Fire started around 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Simms Corner near the intersection of highways 17 and 172 about 12 miles east of Mansfield.

It raced eastward toward Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam, prompting the Grant County Sheriff’s Office to issue Level 3 (get out now) evacuation alerts Saturday for a portion of northwest Grand Coulee and western Coulee Dam. Another area of northwestern Grand Coulee was under a Level 2 (be ready) alert.

Level 3 and Level 2 alerts were later downgraded to Level 1 (be aware). All areas with alerts are on the west side of the Columbia River.

The fire’s cause is under investigation.

State mobilization was authorized at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the request of Douglas County Fire District No. 5 Chief Tyler Caille. Three wild land task forces and a Type 3 management team were ordered.

A Red Cross shelter was set up at Wilbur High School.

On Monday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10 Administrator Mike O’Hare approved state requests for federal fire management assistance grants for three fires, including Grass Valley. Others are the Hawk Fire at White Swan and the Cougar Creek Fire in Chelan County that’s threatening Ardenvoir, Plain and Entiat.

Initial response to Grass Valley was from Douglas County fire district Nos. 3 and 5. Okanogan County Fire District No. 8 (southwest reservation), Grant County Fire District No. 14, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Bureau of Land Management also responded.

At one point the fire was 12 miles wide and, fanned by winds, was moving fast.

“Most of the time, all firefighters could do was to defend homes and buildings, and push the fire around the building, then try to get ahead of it and defend the next building,” said a Sunday announcement from the Southeast Washington Type 3 team.

Highways 17 and 174 were closed by the state Department of Transportation at 2:16 p.m. Saturday. Highway 17 was reopened at 2:56 p.m. and Highway 174 was reopened at 3:02 p.m., but closed again seven minutes later between Leahy Junction and Grand Coulee. It remained closed until 7:49 p.m. Sunday.

An air attack was conducted early Saturday, but was abandoned later in the day because of windy conditions – aircraft could no longer scoop water from the Columbia River and did not have a good view of the fire.

As of late the evening of Aug. 12, the fire had damaged one structure and stood at 74,835 acres, said the Type 3 team. Resources assigned to the fire included 100 firefighters and support personnel, 10 engines, four water tenders, three bulldozers and three aircraft.

An estimated 150 primary homes, 30 commercial structures and agricultural lands are within and adjacent to the active fire area and remained threatened.


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