Firefighter killed by falling tree while battling Oregon wildfire

PORTLAND, Ore. - A falling tree killed a firefighter from a Bonney Lake, Wash.-based company and injured another Thursday as lightning started wildfires in Central Oregon.

Firefighter Jim Hammick, 60, of Redmond, Ore., was killed while removing hazardous trees in the path of a small wildfire in the remote Mt. Washington Wilderness Area in the high Cascades. It was one of multiple wildfires burning in the state.

Another firefighter, Norman Crawford, 45, of Sisters was hit on the shoulder by the tree and taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Both crew members worked for R&K Water Services of Bonney Lake, Wash. Company vice president Sandra Burleson declined comment.

They are among the 4,000 people fighting active fires that are burning on about 40,000 acres in Oregon.

Meannwhile, in central Washington, firefighters worked Thursday to shore up the southern and western flanks of a blaze that has charred a wide swath of land in two counties, as they kept watch for thunderstorms that could bring dry lightning and erratic winds.

The fast-moving Colockum Tarps Fire was 25 percent contained Thursday, but it has burned across nearly 113 square miles of dry grass, sagebrush and light timber and destroyed several homes and outbuildings.

Residents of about 100 scattered homes and cabins in Kittitas County were ordered to evacuate Wednesday, and they remained out of their homes on Thursday, fire officials said.

Adding to the pressure: The region is under red-flag warnings for thunderstorm activity through Thursday, with the potential for dry lightning and erratic winds.

About 700 firefighters were assigned to the blaze.

The fire originated south of Wenatchee and methodically churned south along the Columbia River, burning to the north end of a Puget Sound Energy wind farm that sits about 17 miles east of Ellensburg overlooking the river.

Further south, the Mile Marker 28 Fire near Goldendale was 65 percent contained. The fire has charred about 42 square miles near Satus Pass and forced the closure of U.S. Highway 97 for days.

The highway reopened Wednesday, though travel delays of up to one hour should be expected, with pilot cars leading vehicles through the fire area.

The National Interagency Fire Center earlier this week listed the Northwest as its highest priority, giving Oregon and Washington the first shot at crews and equipment as they become available.

That's typical for this time of year because the Northwest has a later fire season - late July and August - than most of the other 10 geographic regions. The fire season tends to start in the Southeast and shift to the Southwest before migrating north to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Nationally, the wildfire season has been relatively mild this year, with the total number of fires and acres burned running at about 60 percent of the 10-year average. The Pacific Northwest hopes to follow the trend, but officials fear a tough August because it's dry.