By The Chronicle
A wildfire that burned a total of 494 acres in the Grand Mound area earlier this week scorched 345 acres of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, prompting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to close public access to the south side of the popular site until further notice.
The wind-blown fire was first reported Tuesday afternoon in a residential area before turning northwest toward the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area and eventually shifting directions again and jumping six lanes of traffic on Interstate 5 where it ignited another patch of land southeast of the initial burn.
State wildlife managers are currently assessing damage caused by the fire. Numerous homes and outbuildings were destroyed, including the historic Miller-Brewer homestead built in 1860 and an accompanying barn, both located within the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area.
“This fire is truly a tragedy,” said Brady Calkins, a regional wildlife manager for the WDFW, in a press release. “We put our heart and soul into restoring this remaining piece of rare native prairie, and we know a lot of people are going to feel this loss as much as we do.”
The fire required a multi-agency response from numerous surrounding counties, including the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which is heading the fire investigation. More than 100 families were forced to evacuate their homes during the fire.
The Scatter Creek Wildlife Area is owned and managed by the WDFW. The grounds provide protected habitat for several threatened and endangered wildlife species, including Taylor’s checkerspot and mardon skipper butterflies, as well as the Mazama pocket gopher. Additionally, the wildlife area is popular with hikers, birdwatchers, bird hunters and dog trainers.
In the release, Calkins noted that the WDFW will require some time to survey the charred acreage in order to document any safety hazards. He added that activities such as fall upland bird hunting will likely be impacted by the wildfire and subsequent closure of the southern section of the wildlife area. The 435-acre unit of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area north of Scatter Creek will remain open to the public.
Prescribed burns have been conducted in years past at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in order to improve habitat conditions, but Calkins said no burns were conducted in 2017.
“These are clearly not the kind of conditions where we would conduct prescribed burns,” Calkins said in the release. “The combination of dry grass and strong winds propelled the flames straight across the south side of the wildlife area.”
A preliminary estimate of restoration and repair work has been tabbed at more than $1 million and work is expected to begin immediately.
“We’re invested in the future of this area, and we’re already starting to plan recovery efforts to protect the prairie for use by animals and people,” Calkins said in the release. “We will be putting a lot of effort into weed control and replanting.”
Scatter Creek is one of 33 state wildlife areas managed by WDFW to provide habitat for fish and wildlife as well as land for outdoor recreation.