Crime

Wildfires burning in rural areas of Whatcom County

Video: Crews fight wildfire on Stewart Mountain near Bellingham

Bellingham Herald reader Russ Kendall shared this video of a helicopter dumping water on a wildfire burning about five acres of Stewart Mountain on Sunday, July 5 near Bellingham, Wash. Russ Kendall | Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald
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Bellingham Herald reader Russ Kendall shared this video of a helicopter dumping water on a wildfire burning about five acres of Stewart Mountain on Sunday, July 5 near Bellingham, Wash. Russ Kendall | Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County fire departments and state wildland fire crews were battling three fires across Whatcom County on Sunday, July 5.

Of most concern was a 5-acre blaze burning in rugged terrain on the north side of Stewart Mountain that started around midday Sunday, said Chris Hankey, public information officer for the state Department of Natural Resources, which supplies wildland fire crews and equipment on state lands.

“They’re really trying to jump on this; they want to get it real fast,” Hankey said. “It’s holding around 5 acres and it isn’t taking any big runs.”

He said the fire was about 10 percent contained.

“They’re still actively building fire line,” he said.

By Sunday afternoon, DNR had three engine companies, a seven-member hand crew, a bulldozer and three helicopters attacking the fire on DNR land on Stewart Mountain, Hankey said. South Whatcom Fire Authority was assisting with its brush truck, and it was possible that other Whatcom County fire districts would lend personnel and equipment. Automated text messages requesting aid were sent to off-duty firefighters.

Helicopters were to cease operations by sundown, but hand crews would work through the night, digging and cutting firebreaks, Hankey said.

Posts on social media reported smoky haze on the north side of Lake Whatcom and several people expressed concern that they saw a helicopter with a water bucket attached heading east of Bellingham. The aroma of smoke hung in the air around downtown Bellingham.

Several weeks of hot, dry weather — unusual for May and June in Western Washington — have increased the fire danger and led to burn bans. Fireworks were discouraged over the Independence Day weekend, even though they remained legal in unincorporated areas of the county. “We’re definitely seeing weather that we usually see in August,” Hankey said.

Homes are near the scene of two fires, but none were considered threatened and no evacuations were planned Sunday afternoon, Hankey said.

Fires that started Saturday, July 4, were still burning on Portage Island in Bellingham Bay and in brush near homes northwest of North Shore Road and Agate Bay Lane. Those fires were less of a threat, Hankey said, allowing DNR to commit resources to the fire on Stewart Mountain.

An 8-acre fire on Portage Island was 100 percent contained and 20 percent mopped up, Hankey said. It was circled by hose lines. A small steep and forested section of the island was being allowed to burn itself out, Hankey said. Three DNR engine companies remained at that fire.

Near Agate Bay Lane and North Shore Drive, crews worked overnight Saturday on a fire that grew to about 4 acres. Crews from North Whatcom Fire & Rescue, South Whatcom Fire Authority and Whatcom County Fire District 7 (Ferndale) worked on the fire lines and stood by to protect homes until dawn. One DNR engine remained at that fire Sunday afternoon, making sure that the fire did not spread to nearby timber. A single DNR “night watch” was planned Sunday into Monday.

Officially, all three fires are “under investigation.” Hankey could not guess if fireworks or other human activity was the cause, but he said that said there have been no lightning strikes or downed power lines reported.

No injuries or property damage were reported at any of the three fires.

Robert Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter with South Whatcom Fire Authority and he worked on the Agate Bay fire. Reach him at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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