Benton County residents in the Finley area were still under precautionary evacuation orders Friday morning as firefighters continued battling a blaze in the rural area east of Kennewick.
Residents were told about 7 p.m. Thursday to be ready to leave their homes after initially being placed on a higher alert.
The warnings were issued for the area from the intersection of South Piert Road and Meals Road, south to East Hover Road, and East to the Columbia River.
The Toothaker Fire started around 1:30 p.m. Thursday. As of Friday morning the 300-acre fire was 60% contained.
Benton County Fire District 1 Public Information Officer Jenna Kochenaur said that with a Red Flag warning still in place, there is concern that expected 30-mph winds could fan the flames.
Kochenauer said that a Level 2 warning meant residents needed to start packing their vehicles and those with mobility issues or disabilities needed to leave immediately.
The reduced Level 1 warning was that they needed to have a plan in place to evacuate if the fire worsened.
Kochenaur told the Herald Friday that the Level 1 warning is still in place, in order to keep the roadway free of traffic.
“The bigger concern is concerns with the roadway, as long as we have that roadway closed we’re going to keep it at Level 1,” she said.
Kochenaur said people who don’t live in the area were driving out to look at the fire and that was causing concerns.
She told the Herald that even with the roadway closed, people were using ATVs trying to get closer to the fire to get a look at it. She said that kind of behavior creates a very dangerous situation for everyone involved. Wildfires are also no-fly zones for drones.
“We didn’t really get any growth on the fire overnight, which is great, but that’s always a possibility,” Kochenaur said.
Crews were working to improve and complete fire lines on Friday morning. They also were removing dangerous trees from near the roadway, with at least one falling onto the road Friday morning.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office mobilized the Washington State Fire Services to support Benton County and other Tri-Cities area fire agencies battling the blaze.
Five planes and a helicopter were deployed to help battle the fire.
The fire marshal’s office said the fire was burning in brush, Russian olive trees and grass and was threatening homes, crops and electrical and railroad infrastructure.
The area was under a Red Flag Fire Warning through Friday night because of blustery winds.