South Whidbey firefighters fought what they called the largest brushfire on the South End since the 1990s today.
According to Mike Cotton, deputy chief for South Whidbey Fire/EMS, it scorched about 15 acres of grassland, damaged power lines and power poles, and threatened a number of buildings. Multiple island and state agencies responded to the emergency, it caused heavy traffic delays along Highway 525 and even resulted in some residents leaving their homes as a precautionary measure.
“This was a significant event,” Cotton said. “We had the highway shut down for a couple of hours.”
The fire was actually a series of small fires just south of Freeland that combined into three larger blazes. The first was reported around 12:30 p.m., Cotton said. Driving southbound on Highway 525, he counted eight fires between Double Bluff and Scott roads, he told The Record.
Several buildings were at risk, including the Eagles lodge and a couple homes. Firefighters initially focused their efforts around these structures.
Fire officials didn’t order any evacuations, but some people decided to retreat to a safe distance when warned by firefighters. Others got involved; one homeowner on the corner of Double Bluff and the state route was observed tackling flames on her property with a garden hose, Cotton said.
The majority of the fires were under control within 45 minutes, but firefighters spent about three hours working to extinguish hot spots. Some state firefighters were still doing mop up as of 7:30 p.m.
The cause of the fires is undetermined, but he said it was very “unusual” to have so many in so small an area. Fire experts and police are investigating, he said.
The incident and the subsequent highway closure resulted in heavy traffic delays; motorists were reportedly asked to avoid the highway because of backups.
The fires come on the heels of a recent burn ban issued by Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, who is also the county’s fire marshal, and a proclamation by the Island County Commissioners that urged the public to exercise extreme caution with fireworks this year due to hot weather and low moisture levels.