The Big Horn Fire in Ellensburg, Washington, began as a brush fire along State Route 821 at mile post 21 on Wednesday, August 6th. Around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, the road was closed and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was forced to set up a roadblock at Thrall Road. A detour directed traffic to Interstate 82. The cause of the Big Horn Fire was discovered when police took a suspect into custody.
Alisha Toombs of the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported that the fire was at approximately 50 acres. Both air and ground units from the DNR responded to the fire, along with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This has diverted crews briefly away from the Snag Canyon Fire, still burning actively in the Ellensburg area.
Following his arrest late Wednesday night, the suspect was taken to the Kittitas County Corrections Center. He was later identified as 56-year-old Dominick Desimone, an Everett resident. Desimone is said to have set a fire near his vehicle about 11 miles south of Ellensburg in the area of the Big Horn turnout, authorities said. It was this fire, police discovered, that got out of control and ultimately caused the Big Horn Fire. Sometime during the dark morning hours on Thursday, the fire burned up to 265 acres. A team from the Bureau of Land Management battled the fire diligently, rendering it extinguished very quickly.
Officials reopened State Route 281 around 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning after the Department of Transportation reported that the fire had been put out. No structures or homes were burned in this new blaze. By the time it was put out, however, total acreage burned had grown by 47 acres more and added up to 312 acres destroyed.
As a result of the Big Horn Fire and the other fires currently blazing throughout Eastern Washington, Governor Jay Inslee wrote a letter asking President Obama to declare the affected areas as major disaster zones. More than 300 homes have been lost in the fires this year. The hope is that federal help can be provided to help families, business owners and local governments regroup and rebuild after the wildfire devastation.
Immediately after Inslee had written and sent his letter, Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Republican U.S. House Representatives Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert wrote and signed a second letter that implored the president to grant Inslee’s request. “A disaster of this magnitude,” their letter read, “requires long-term federal assistance to help these communities respond, rebuild and cope with this tragedy.”
Governor Inslee then penned and mailed a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to request federal aid, in particular for Chelan and Okanogan counties. He also included the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, another region being diminished by fire. In his letter, Inslee made sure to request help for the areas hit the hardest by the wildfires. Answers from the president and FEMA are pending.
The Snag Canyon Fire, the second fire in Ellensburg, has continued to grow and has thousands of firefighters battling it. Thus far, eight homes and more than ten structures have been destroyed. Hundreds of structures are still at risk. It continues to be a high priority and concern for a large part of Central Washington.
Dominick Desimone, discovered to be the cause of the Big Horn Fire, remains behind bars on suspicion of second-degree arson. There has been no bail posted for him. Clay Meyers of the Kittitas County Undersheriff told The Daily Record Thursday morning that it is still a very active investigation.
The only thing that has been proven for sure is that the vehicle belongs to Desimone. Meyers confirmed that the fire that flared into the Big Horn Fire did originate from Desimone’s car, and that the fire itself seemed as though it was unintentional. More details are pending. Until then, the briefly detoured firefighters who battled the fire within the Yakima River Canyon have returned to the Snag Canyon Fire, still actively burning on the opposite side of Ellensburg.
By Rachel Roddy