Fires east of the Cascades in Washington state continue to scorch wine regions in the Columbia Gorge and the Yakima Valley on Monday.
First reports of the Gorge blaze — named the Tunnel 5 Fire because it began near Highway 14’s Tunnel 5 — were called into officials Sunday morning.
Fire crews immediately were deployed to Cook-Underwood Road west of the community of Underwood. The road is linked to two wineries — Willow Wine Cellars and Hawkins Cellars — as well as historic Celilo Vineyard.
Willow Wine is owned by winemaker Brendan Simpers and his wife, Tarnna. Hawkins Cellars is owned by Thane Hawkins, a former Pixar executive who began making wine 20 years ago, and his partner, Oregon native Deb Michelson.
“Update from the front lines: yesterday was dicey but thanks to heroic efforts from local fire crews the fire did not jump the road,” Hawkins Cellars shared via Instagram on Monday afternoon. “However some homes on the bluff are gone. Our staff is safe and we are praying for those whose homes were lost and everyone else on Underwood Mountain. Fires are ongoing so stay clear of the area and let our amazing fire crews do their work.”
Celilo Vineyards was planted in 1972, making the 50-acre site one of the Washington wine industry’s oldest and most prized. It was purchased in 2015 by Michael and Laurie Corliss of Corliss Estates in Walla Walla.
On Tuesday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that an estimated 10 homes had been destroyed, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Fire climbs from near river to Cook-Underwood Rd.
The Tunnel 5 Fire began at approximately 11:19 a.m. Sunday directly across the Columbia River from the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa in Hood River, Ore. Emergency officials quickly closed Highway 14, and Skamania Fire District 1 issued a “Level 3 – Go” evacuation response, defined as “Do not delay leaving to gather belongings. This is the last notice you will receive.”
Among the homes and businesses west of White Salmon to act on the Level 3 evacuation notice Sunday afternoon was AniChe Cellars, which is at a higher elevation on Underwood Mountain along Little Buck Creek Road. Close by on Kramer Road is Savage Grace Wines and Loop de Loop Winery. Estate vineyards for each brand are nearby.
“We made it through the night!” AniChe shared on its Facebook page. “Blessed be the firefighters and first responders who worked so hard through the night. While the fire is less than a mile away from the Tasting Room, vineyards and our homes, we are optimistic.
“Tragically some of our beloved neighbors did not fare as well. Our hearts and prayers go out to these wonderful people, club members and friends who have lost their homes.”
Tunnel 5 Fire prompts Hood River to cancel fireworks
During the first day, the Tunnel 5 Fire reportedly destroyed 10 homes and threatened nearly 300 others, including 15 commercial properties. The evacuation notice affected an estimated 1,000 residents, and the Skamania County Fairgrounds collaborated with the American Red Cross to assist.
The Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team reported it had been assigned 10 fire suppression aircraft and more than 150 ground crews.
Among the other wineries with estate vineyards not far up the mountain from Cook-Underwood Road are South Hill Winery on Scoggins Road and Gorge Crest Winery on Kollock Knapp Road. Crooked Acres Vineyard is just west of Gorge Crest.
The onshore breeze from the Pacific Ocean pushed smoke away from the Portland/Vancouver metro area and up the Columbia Gorge into the Columbia Valley.
At 8 p.m., Monday, the Tunnel 5 Fire transitioned to a Type 2 incident management team. Crews had the fire 5% contained with more than 530 acres burned.
Earlier in the day, Hood River Fireworks canceled its Fourth of July show.
“This is a community event, and it will not feel the same to celebrate while such a large part of our community is actively undergoing loss,” the pyrotechnic company released in a statement. “Our thoughts, focus, and support should remain on this wildfire.”
“When this is over, and we need to rebuild, Aniche is committed to help our neighbors and this community as much as we can,” the statement continued. “But for now….please keep us all in your hearts. It isn’t over…”
Fire revisits Yakima Valley near Red Mountain
The OIE Fire raced through range land to burn 1,300 acres of wildland and private land along the Yakima River west of Red Mountain. It closed Interstate 82 in both directions between Richland and Prosser at approximately 3 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Benton County Fire District No. 1 announced Level 1 Evacuation — “Ready to Go.”
The fire began approximately 1:15 p.m. as a 5-acre vegetation fire near W. Knox Road and the Old Inland Empire Highway, which runs parallel to Interstate 82 and north of the Yakima River from Prosser to Benton City.
At about 2:34 p.m., the fire jumped the Yakima River, starting a separate fire on the south side of the river, according to Benton County Fire District No. 2. The Washington State Patrol Fire Marshal’s Office approved state mobilization resources at 4:30 p.m., authorizing the use of helicopter to drop water onto the fire. Three helicopters responded and helped crews bring the fire under control.
As of 7 p.m., Monday, Level 1 evacuations remained in place for those between the Yakima River and Gibbon Road, which is just north of Interstate 82. A Level 1 (get ready) evacuation had been issued for Gibbon Road to Yakitat Road west of Chandler Reach Vineyard between the Yakima River and north of Interstate 82, per Benton County Emergency Services.
By dusk, fire containment had reached 60%, according to BCFD No. 1, and an additional team reportedly was being called for overnight mop up. No primary structures/residences were burned in the fire, but at least one outbuilding — possibly a barn — was destroyed, BCFD No. 2 reported.
Two weeks ago, vines were scorched and wineries threatened on the western edge of Red Mountain by the Ruppert Road Fire while the tasting room for Anelare Winery and Skyfall Vineyard narrowly escaped the Hansen Road Fire. It was eerily similar to the 2016 wildfire that threatened both properties just south of Interstate 82 south of Benton City.
For updates and information on the entire region, go to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center portal.