Jurgen Hess

(States Newsroom) The Tunnel 5 Fire started just before noon July 2 on Washington State Route 14, at mile 60 in Skamania County.

Burning on a steep, rocky slope above the busy highway (the main thoroughfare through the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge), as of the morning of July 3 it had burned up to Cook Underwood Road at the top of the slope.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

In 2007, the Broughton Fire burned 200 acres and five houses in the same area. That fire was determined to have been caused by the BNSF Railway Company’s grinding of nearby railroad tracks.

“Track grinding” or “rail grinding” is a process undertaken to address deformation and corrosion of rail tracks due to heavy use and friction. The grinding process creates sparks.


 A fire-fighting jet drops 4,000 gallons of retardant on the Tunnel 5 fire on July 2. The aircraft in the upper right corner is the lead plane guiding the jet into the fire drop zone. (Jurgenhessphotography/Columbia Insight)
As of the morning of July 3, high winds had blown the Tunnel 5 Fire more than two-and-a-half miles eastward, toward the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.

Crews from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and rural fire districts are fighting the fire.

Multiple airplanes are dropping fire retardant and water on hot spots and the ridge top along Cook Underwood Road. The area has numerous homes.

The largest plane is a McDonnell Douglas MD-87 twin-engine jet, which drops 4,000 gallons of retardant at a cost of $12,400 per drop. Several Grumman S-2T twin-engine propeller planes are dropping water on hot spots and homes in danger.

At least four single-engine Fire Boss planes are scooping up water on the fly and, like the Grummans, protecting homes and trying to cool hot spots with visible flames. The Fire Bosses can make a scoop and drop with about three minutes turnaround.

This story was originally published by Columbia Insight.