Close call: Neighbors save homes during intense brush fire along I-5 near Kent
KENT, Wash. -- Several trees were burned and backyards scorched when a brush fire brought spectacular flames along Interstate 5 on Kent's west hill Tuesday afternoon, spreading up near a row of homes in the process.
As neighbors and residents used hoses to douse the burning grass behind their homes, WSDOT crews closed all northbound lanes of I-5 just south of state Route 516 during the height of the evening commute to fight the fire along the freeway.
Video from WSDOT cameras showed flames shooting out the tops of trees as smoke billowed up the side of the roadway.
"I was shaken up, who wouldn’t be?" said Jo Morris, who took over fighting a fire in her backyard after a neighbor started fighting it for her. "Especially as dry as it’s been. I’ve got two big trees in my backyard. I’ve got all kind of bushes, so trust me, if that barrier wall wasn’t there, I probably would be watching my house on fire.”
The fire began just after 4 p.m. just south of SR-516, WSDOT officials said.
Fire officials said the dry conditions are ripe for high fire danger in Washington State.
"It had started up the hillside of northbound I-5, got all the way up to the sound wall that was put there to protect the homes -- and that's exactly what it did -- it stopped the fire," said Kyle Ohashi with Puget Sound Fire. "The problem was we have a lot of embers flying over the wall with the wind we have today and they're igniting some of the grassy areas on the other side of the wall where the homes are."
So far, no homes have been damaged, but Ohashi said one shed was burned.
Several firefighters from multiple agencies were in the area to not only put out the fires along I-5 but to check on the homes bordering the freeway to make sure there were no fires there that could spread to the homes, Ohashi said.
"Right now it's just a lot of burn spots in people's backyards, and a very large section of I-5 that's been burned out along the right hand side of northbound," Ohashi said.
In addition to fire trucks, a crash response truck from Boeing Field was also brought to the scene to help douse the fire.
"It has a unique capability that our fire trucks do not have -- it can actually spray water while it's still moving, so it can just move up along I-5 and cover a lot of ground and make sure this fire is out."
Miguel Sanchez was on his way to visit is mom when he saw the smoke billowing in the neighborhood.
"Glanced in the backyard and saw the backyards on fire," Sanchez said. He said he jumped into a lady's backyard, grabbed a hose and started spraying the fire. When she came out to see what was happening, he passed the hose to her and started fighting an even larger fire at a neighbor's home.
"It was pretty intense," Sanchez said, sporting a Seahawks T-Shirt with a few fresh singe marks on his back. "I just did what I could to help out."
"There is nothing scarier than thinking you’re not going to have a place to sleep at night," said Melinda Standley who's backyard was scorched.
Ohashi praised the residents and their neighbors for helping protect not only their homes, but their neighbors' as well.
"I talked to one gentlemen who was putting out some of the fire in a backyard and I thanked him for protecting his property for us and he told me he didn't even live there," Ohashi said. "He just saw there was a need and took care of it."
No one was hurt, Ohashi said. But due to the large amounts of water used to extinguish the fire, he said they may never know what caused it.
All lanes of I-5 fully reopened just after 6:30 p.m.