By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
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Sheriff Tony Hernandez said he interviewed the boys — who are all younger than 18 and so were not named because of their age — on Tuesday.
Hernandez said they admitted to lighting the Labor Day wildfire that quickly spread over more than 21 acres on a steep bluff overlooking Beckett Point, a village of expensive homes on Discovery Bay about eight miles southwest of Port Townsend.
The fire was contained with smoldering hot spots by Tuesday after winds whipping up to about 10 mph threatened to reignite it.
State Department of Natural Resources officials who took over fire management from county crews when their wildland hotshot crews arrived said the firefighting force peaked at about 100 firefighters Monday, with about 50 on standby to monitor hot spots Tuesday.
Joining DNR’s wildlife firefighters and East Jefferson Fire-Rescue personnel were firefighters from all over the Peninsula, from as close as Sequim and as far away as Kitsap County.
The fire threatened an eagle’s nest and a blue heron in a tree that flew off.
The blaze could cost more than $100,000 to fully contain, said Bill Sanders, DNR assistant regional manager, who is heading the fire investigation.
Trees that burned out at the stump level will be removed from the slope, Sanders said.
“There’s a chance they could fall down here and fall on people,” he explained at the site where the fire was believed to be ignited behind the Beckett Point home of Dick and Glenda Cable, who formerly owned the Swain’s Outdoor stores in Port Townsend and Sequim.
“The fire is still in mop-up,” Sanders added.
Bill Beezley, spokesman for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, said the fire was contained with a buffer dug around it but that it was expected it could take up to three days to completely douse the hot spots.
“It takes a long time to make sure it’s all out,” Beezley said Tuesday at the scene where the scent of smoke lingered in the air.
Beezley said it was a particularly difficult fire to fight because it was mainly burning on a steep grade of up to 80 percent.
Hernandez said a Sheriff’s Office report in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources, which assisted Jefferson County firefighters in beating back flames Monday, would be forwarded to the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for consideration of formal charges.
“They used a WD-40 can as an accelerant to light bottle rockets and started a wildfire, then ran down the beach and got help,” Hernandez said.
The youths were placed in the custody of their parents, the sheriff said as he spoke near the fire’s command post Tuesday at the junction of Cape George and Discovery roads.
Beckett Point neighbors said they dashed to form a “bucket brigade” and pulled out garden hoses Monday in an attempt to protect their homes from wildfire that swept the bluffside overlooking their seaside homes.
“It was a real community effort for a while,” said Neil Gallagher, who with his wife, Rosalyn, has lived in the summer home since the 1960s next door to the Cables, who were not home when the blaze kicked up.
“One of the kids ran up here and said, ‘We need a fire extinguisher,’ and I saw [the fire], and it was way beyond that,” Gallagher recalled of some 20 to 30 Beckett Point neighbors who successfully stemmed fire damage to their homes until firefighters arrived.
“If it hadn’t been for all the people with the hoses, it would have come down to the homes,” he said, looking up the blackened bluff with smoke visibly drifting from the hot spots.
The Gallaghers said embers from the blaze blew off the hillside, and one flew over their home and ignited driftwood on the beach behind it.
“We watered all the houses down,” he said, between 2:30 p.m. and until dark Monday night.
The bluff, which is so dry that cactus share space with fir trees and madronas, ignited in a similar fashion about 20 years ago on the Fourth of July.
“We were able to get that one out,” Gallagher said.
John Kennedy — who lives during the summer in a beachside cabin his grandfather built, which is near the Gallaghers’ — said neighbors just jumped in with buckets and hoses, alerting neighbors atop the bluff, some of whom were unaware that their homes were threatened by flames.
“We did what we could, but it was fanned by winds of up to 15 mph,” Kennedy said.
“We saw these trees bursting into flames.”
Added Charles Beauchamp, who was visiting Kennedy: “There’s a chance we might have saved a garage or two.”
Fire came within 10 feet of some homes, and Beezley said early responders used chemical foam retardant to prevent flames from spreading to structures.
Later, firefighters dug a 3-foot-wide trench around the perimeter of the wildfire to prevent its spread.
Beezley said a DNR wildfire helicopter dumped water pulled from Discovery Bay about 10 times to help firefighters in the difficult, steep terrain.
Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Wilkerson and Sequim Assistant Fire Chief Ben Andrews assisted East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Chief Gordon Pomeroy and Assistant Chief Ted Krysinski in firefighting command.
Naval Magazine Indian Island’s Fire Prevention crew and a task force from Kitsap County also participated, along with 13 Sequim firefighters.
Beezley said both Jefferson County Fire District No. 5 in Discovery Bay and Quilcene-based Jefferson County Fire District No. 2 joined in backing up the fire stations and emergency medical operations during the wildfire fight.
Beezley said the district received reports of illegal burns Tuesday.
A burn ban on outdoor fires is in effect. Conditions are increasingly dry.
“It’s a bad time to burn,” Beezley said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.