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Fire scorches 4,000 acres north of Sunnyside

The Silver Dollar Café and several homes were spared from a grass fire that's still smoldering today 16 miles north of Sunnyside.

At its peak yesterday, Thursday, the blaze scorched nearly 4,000 acres of brush land near the intersection of SR-241 and SR-24. Portions of both highways were closed for about eight hours yesterday.

The fire started just before noon when the driver of a motorcycle lost control and ran off the road near the intersection.

That's according to the Washington State Patrol, which says the accident required the driver, Timothy Wilson, and passenger, Cheryl Roberts, to be hospitalized in Yakima.

Both are from Cashmere and troopers reported that Wilson, 52, faces a lane travel infraction charge. Roberts, 54, had to be transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for further treatment.

Joel Byam of Grandview is a captain for Yakima County Fire District #5, and he said the fire burned across the roadway from the Silver Dollar. He noted eight or nine homes were threatened.

Byam praised a quick response by the Bureau of Land Management in allowing firefighters from neighboring districts onto federal land to battle the blaze.

He noted personnel from the East Valley Fire Department and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were first at the scene.

Fire District 5 responded later, along with crews from Selah, West Valley, along with state and national agencies.

Byam was at the scene until midnight. He says the fire is contained with a "dozer line 100 percent around it."

The SR-24/SR-241 area was hit by a devastating fire three years ago that, in contrast to yesterday's blaze, destroyed the landmark Silver Dollar Café and a manufactured home.

That blaze, called the Dry Creek Complex, involved several fires started by lightning strikes and covered 49,000 acres.

More than 10 times larger than yesterday's blaze, Dry Creek stretched fire crews and was located in a "no man's land" not served by a fire district, which resulted in a delayed response due to liability concerns.

"There were lessons learned for a lot of people as far as where federal land is and taking early action," said Byam. "I believe it was just a quicker response of getting approval to battle the fire."

He estimates 150 firefighters responded to the 4,000-acre blaze on Thursday. That's about 30 percent more personnel than the 112 firefighters who responded to the much larger Dry Creek Complex fire.

Byam says not only did the Bureau of Land Management enable quick action with its early ok, but the agency is covering the cost to battle the blaze. He said that includes the $700 or $800 an hour it costs to run each of the two helicopters that helped fight the grass fire yesterday. An airplane also assisted the effort.

Efforts to contain the fire are under federal jurisdiction because of federal lands involved.

"Unless something happens up there they should start sending trucks home today," says Byam. He adds a federal strike team will probably stay longer to monitor the scene for potential flare ups or hot spots.

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