UPDATE: Neah Bay residents allowed to return to homes after evacuation

DNT crews beating back fires

The Coast Guard flew over fires and took photographs of blazes near Cape Flattery. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard flew over fires and took photographs of blazes near Cape Flattery. (U.S. Coast Guard)

NEAH BAY — Residents of Neah Bay were allowed to return to their homes on Friday after more than 100 had been evacuated from several neighborhoods in the face of several fires that broke out Thursday.

“The threat to life and property has passed for now,” said Makah Tribal Chairman T.J. Greene on Friday.

Neah Bay schools and tribal government operations remained closed Friday, but fires had been beaten back as high winds — which blew steadily at about 30 mph with gusts above 50 mph — died down overnight, he said.

“It’s really fortunate that there was no loss of life, no injuries and no property damage,” Greene said.

Fires had burned at least 140 acres, he said.

The Cape Fire was made up of two blazes, Greene said late Friday — the Alpha Fire, fully contained at 18.18 acres and the Bravo Fire, 70 percent contained at 60 acres, according to the day’s most recent update by the from state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crew members, who have been battling the blazes with crews on the ground and helicopters performing water drops.

DNR said crews had made “significant progress” toward 80 percent containment of the Cape blazes, the largest of those that broke out Thursday morning, by the end of Friday, Greene said.

The Hobuck Lake Fire, the first one discovered in the early morning hours on Thursday, burned hot and fast and raced toward a residential area. People were alerted to it because it was dropping hot embers on homes.

That fire, referred to as Charley Fire by DNR, Greene said, was “very concerning at 3:30 a.m. or so” Thursday, but it was blocked by wetlands and considered to be 90 percent contained at 37. 8 acres late Friday afternoon,

A third fire, Johnny’s Junction, did not grow beyond 2 acres and was fully contained Friday, having run out of fuel, the tribal chairman said.

Firefighting is expected to continue for another two or three days, he said, although it could go more quickly depending upon the weather.

Smoke is not a problem because of northeasterly winds blowing it out to sea.

“There has been no determination about the cause” of the fires, Greene said.

“All we know is that there were controlled burns” set by DNR “in those areas within the last couple of weeks,” he added.

There were some close calls.

A private landowner on Cape Flattery had flames literally at the doorstep of his workshop, Greene said, but he worked with DNR to get a fire line in and divert it.

DNR has been the lead agency fighting the fires. Assistance has been provided by the Olympic Correction Center south of Forks both Thursday and today, he said.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at lleach@soundpublishing.com.

THURSDAY’S STORY

By Brian Gawley

Peninsula Daily News

More than 100 people had been evacuated from several Neah Bay neighborhoods on Thursday and Neah Bay schools were closed in the wake of the Hobuck Fire that had burned an estimated 120 acres in the Lake Hobuck and surrounding area as of Thursday afternoon.

No state highways were affected, but checkpoints staffed by Clallam County sheriff’s deputies were set up throughout the area to discourage “lookie-loos,” said Makah Tribal Chairman T.J. Greene mid-afternoon Thursday.

Evacuation was recommended for residents of Tsoo-Yess, Hobuck, Crown Z, Fish Hatchery and 400 and 500 housing. The Makah Community Gym was opened as an emergency shelter.

Greene said the cause was not known; he speculated a slash burn had reignited. Residents reported he blaze to emergency dispatchers at about 5:40 a.m. when embers began falling in the area of Hobart Lake, he said.

No residents were harmed or structures threatened, he said.

The Cape Flattery Trail and the Hobuck Campground were closed. Greene said campers were evacuated and those with reservations were alerted to the situation.

The state Department of Natural Resources said the Hobuck Fire is made up of three active wildland fires: Hobuck Lake, The Cape and Johnny’s Junction.

The Hobuck Lake fire had subsided to about 20 acres by mid-afternoon Thursday, but it was the one that alerted residents, Greene said.

“It fully engulfed the hillside. The flames could be seen for miles. The Johnny’s Junction fire is about two acres in the interior of the reservation and is not a risk,” he said.

The state Department of Natural Resources had about 60 personnel on-site plus two helicopters for water drops, although winds had kept them grounded on Thursday, Greene said.

Water restrictions are in place to make sure there’s enough water for firefighting, he said.

“We have a command staff in our emergency operations center. The sheriff’s office sent a handful of people from their emergency operations center who are helping with the logistics and organization of the fire response,” he said.

Michelle Parkin, Cape Flattery School District superintendent, said Neah Bay’s elementary, junior high and senior high schools were closed Thursday and would remain so today.

“This morning when we received notification of the three fires ablaze within the reservation boundaries, we made a determination as an administration not to transport students onto the campus because there were so many unknowns,” Parkin said.

“As the crisis progresses, we are gaining more details and we will be making decisions on how to proceed.”

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at brian.gawley@soundpublishing.com.

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