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Whatcom firefighters respond to Newhalem wildfire

In this aerial photo, a wildfire moves closer to homes in Twisp, Wash., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. Firefighters on several fronts are fighting against raging wildfires advancing on towns in the north-central part of the state.
In this aerial photo, a wildfire moves closer to homes in Twisp, Wash., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. Firefighters on several fronts are fighting against raging wildfires advancing on towns in the north-central part of the state. AP

Three fire stations in Whatcom County sent crews to protect Seattle City Light’s company town from a growing wildfire.

The Bellingham Fire Department, the South Whatcom Fire Authority and Fire District 7 based in Ferndale each sent a fire engine with a three- or four-person crew to Newhalem at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20.

The three engines responded to a request from the National Park Service to assist with the Goodell Creek fire, which was threatening Seattle City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project. Newhalem is home to about 60 employees of the utility.

“Our guys aren’t wildland firefighters,” said Bill Hewett, an assistant fire chief for Bellingham. “They’re there basically just to help protect the buildings and the town.”

The assignment was relatively quiet on Thursday morning, Hewett said. Crews put out spot fires near the town.

“The winds were blowing upslope, sort of pushing the fire away from town,” Hewett said.

A second 12-hour shift of local firefighters was being organized late Thursday morning to protect the town overnight.

“At this point it’s pretty precautionary, just in case the wind shifts back to town,” Hewett said.

Area fire officials did not know whether they would be asked to keep watch in Newhalem beyond Friday morning, Aug. 21. Hewett said they were taking it one shift at a time.

The National Park Service will reimburse the three fire departments for their expenses. Bellingham called in off-duty firefighters to work overtime in Newhalem, according to Hewett.

The fire departments are staffing their own stations normally. But with some firefighters out of the area and others on duty at the Northwest Washington Fair, departments in the county are stretched thin, Hewett said.

“It’s important that the public understands the fire danger in Whatcom County is still high,” Hewett said. “We’re really counting on the public to do their part to prevent any fires from starting.”

WHERE THE WILDFIRES ARE

Source: Northwest Coordination Center

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.

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