Colockum Tarps Fire

A helicopter works portions of the Colockum Tarps Fire near the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility on Aug. 1. (Brian Myrick / Daily Record file photo)

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It will take many years for pine and fir trees, shrubs and native shrub-steppe grasses to recover from the devastating 126-square mile Colockum Tarps wildfire of last summer in Chelan and Kittitas counties.

The blaze started in the southeast corner of Chelan County the morning of July 27, near the intersection of Colockum Pass and Tarpiscan roads, when bad electrical wiring powering an orchardist’s irrigation pump arced and ignited dry grass and brush.

The flames quickly headed south and west from the rural community of Malaga and were pushed by sustained windy and dry weather into Kittitas County.

Three occupied homes and one vacant home were destroyed in Chelan County, another was heavily damaged and a sixth home suffered minor damage in the blaze, which also destroyed many outbuildings.

The wildfire was mostly contained by mid-August after costing more than $11 million to fight, involving nearly 1,000 firefighters on the ground and crews operating tanker and pumper trucks, bulldozers and fixed wing aircraft and helicopters for attacks from the air.

A firefighting camp was set up outside Kittitas Elementary School.

Evacuations

The fire also caused the temporary evacuation of several rural home sites, including the areas of upper Parke Creek, upper Colockum and Secret Canyon areas, Cooke Canyon, Sheep Creek, Trail and Tucker creeks.

The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility was evacuated for a time.

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office later confirmed 71 residents were evacuated, while some residents opted to stay in place.

Damage

The Colockum Tarps wildfire burned about 85,184 acres of public and private lands.

Of that total, more than 73,000 acres of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Colockum and (farther south) Quilomene wildlife areas burned.

In the Quilomene, the fire followed the bottom of creek valleys running west and east that have more dense stands of native grasses, shrubs and small trees.

These streamside riparian areas are crucial to the ecosystem and are heavily used by birds, deer and elk, and a variety of other animals as corridors for movement, feeding and drinking, cover, and nesting for birds, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials.

The fire was mostly contained Aug. 11 and was halted in the area of Quilomene Road before it could go much farther south into the Whisky Dick Wildlife Area.

Torrential rains from a thunderstorm moving through the area the night of Aug. 11 caused mudslides, road and stream washouts and pileups of eroded sediment and mud in both counties. Homes were damaged in Chelan County.

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