Firefighters have contained a 6,000-acre brush fire on a ridge near Yakima, Washington, that caused damage in some nearby tree fruit orchards, while crews battled other blazes nearby and in the Columbia Gorge region of Oregon.
Officials deemed the Ahtanum Ridge Fire contained as of Aug. 17 and lifted evacuation order for nearby residents, according to Yakima County Emergency Management. The blaze started from lightning strikes the night before.
Some growers near the Ahtanum Ridge were still assessing damage while others reported only close calls. One grower said three or four of his blocks had some level of damage in his trees. He declined to share his name.
Other wildland fires burned near Yakima, farther away from orchards.
A 985-acre fire near Mosier, Oregon, was 75-percent contained and evacuation orders were being downgraded by Aug. 18, according to InciWeb, an interagency fire information website.
The area also is home to many cherry and pear orchards and wine grape vineyards, though Mike Doke, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers in nearby Hood River, had heard no reports of orchard damage.
Also, smoke seemed mild compared to a bad wildfire year in 2017, he said. Farmers have begun harvesting pears in the area and have adjusted their schedules to end work around noon, more for high temperatures, which they do every year.
“The heat of the day is a bigger issue than smoke,” he said.
Wildland fires, common in the West during late summer, can damage orchard trees and put workers at risk of smoke inhalation. The Yakima Health District issued a warning that inhaling smoky air can weaken the lungs and immune system, making people more susceptible to respiratory infections, including COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
For more information about air quality in Washington state, visit https://wasmoke.blogspot.com/, a website with a locator map published by a collection of federal, state and tribal agencies.
—by Ross Courtney