WA: Blaze Explodes at Nuclear Resevation

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RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - A huge wildfire that roared
across the Hanford nuclear reservation was burning
out of control early Thursday in the arid sagebrush
country of southern Washington. At least 25 homes
were destroyed and thousands of people were
urged to evacuate.

Tampa Bay Online

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), June 29, 2000


Wildfire Spreads Blaze Spreads Across Nuclear Reservation

The Hanford fire, which swelled to cover more than 200,000 acres, neared nuclear facilities, but officials say there is no danger to the public. (ABCNEWS.com)

June 29  A massive out-of-control wildfire at the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington state continues to grow bigger and bigger. The blaze, estimated at 50,000 acres Wednesday evening, has swelled to cover 200,000 acres, burning homes and closing highways as it grows. Early this morning, it came within miles of highly radioactive contamination in an area that once handled spent nuclear fuel.

Strong winds are forecast for later today and are expected to cause problems for crews working to contain the fire. Temperatures in the area hit 100 degrees Wednesday and were expected to reach the mid-90s today.

We could have some tough times on our hands, said John Bickford of the Hanford Joint Information Center. At least 36 homes have been destroyed and about 7,000 residents of Benton City and West Richland were asked to evacuate. Washington Gov. Gary Locke declared a state of emergency in Benton County and activated the National Guard to assist the evacuations. Several state highways were closed because of flames and smoke. This morning, fire officials allowed families to return to West Richland. It looks like the sky is on fire. It looks like hell. Its scary, said Betty Upington of Richland. Flames reached 30 to 40 feet into the air, reported John Britton of Benton County Emergency Services. Most of the burned homes were in the Benton City area, just south of the Hanford nuclear reservation. I can see the smoke  its big, said Benton City resident Joanne Burnett, who was preparing to evacuate. Its a mile from here. Its like a ghost town, said Amanda Meredith, 20, of Benton City. I believe my house is already burned down. Fire Neared Nuclear Facilities The fire briefly threatened a Hanford reservation laboratory containing radioactive waste early this morning before winds pushed the flames south and east.

About 7,000 residents of Benton City and West Richland were asked to evacuate their homes as the fire, which has consumed about 200,000 acres and continues to rage. (ABCNEWS.com/ Magellan Geographix) There are no known radiological releases as a result of the fire at this time, said Keith Klein, manager of the U.S. Department of Energys Hanford site. On Wednesday, the fire burned in the vicinity of an analytical laboratory containing some nuclear waste, and a mile from the Central Waste Complex, where solid wastes are stored.

The worst of the radioactive waste at Hanford is encased and buried underground, but activists said there was still a danger of contaminated waste being spread. The fire also approached a hazardous materials training facility, but it escaped the flames, Bickford said. The training facility had previously been cleared of hazardous materials, he said. All Hanford facilities are in safe status, Michael Minette of the Hanford Joint Information Center said late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, about 1,700 people who worked at the 200 West Area were sent home or told not to report for work. Several workers complained of respiratory problems from the smoke and two went to a local hospital for treatment, Fluor Hanford spokesman Michael Turner said. Fluor Hanford is a Hanford reservation contractor.

Emergency Shelters Set Up Between 600 and 800 firefighters have been battling the blaze, aided by five planes and eight helicopters. The Red Cross set up emergency shelters at Richland High School and Southridge High School in nearby Kennewick to accept evacuees. Buddy Davis of the Red Cross says about 60 people were at the shelters Wednesday night, and they have making the best of it. Most of them are tired and just kind of want a little quiet time at this point, Davis said. The fire, started Tuesday by a fatal auto crash, has been burning in arid sagebrush that makes up most of the 560-square-mile Hanford reservation. A car driven by Phyllis Arnold, 67, of Mattawa, left the road, then swerved back onto the pavement and slammed head-on into a tractor-trailer rig near the west gate to Hanford, the Washington State Patrol said. Arnold died. The truck driver, Reynaldo Gomez, 33, of Othello, was treated at Sunnyside Community Hospital for a knee injury. Earlier this month, the federal government warned that radioactive- contaminated soil from the Los Alamos National Laboratory could flush into the Rio Grande River after a fire raced through the New Mexico site. This fire season is the worst since 1996, according to the National Interagency Fire Council. Since January 1, over 1.3 million acres have been charred by wildfires across the United States, more than in all of 1999


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 29, 2000.

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