WENATCHEE — An early-morning fire at an asphalt plant north of Wenatchee caused more than $1 million damage, closed Highway 97A for a few hours and raised safety concerns for residents at 30 nearby homes.
“The fire was really big when we first got here, with 200 foot flames,” said incident commander Dave Baker. “We had to let it die down before we could even get close to it.”
A foam-spraying fire truck from Pangborn Memorial Airport was called in to douse the blaze, which consumed thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and oil.
The fire was reported just before 4 a.m. today at Central Washington Asphalt, along Highway 97A about two miles north of Rocky Reach Dam.
It started in a batch plant where the company makes hot asphalt for paving projects. Two diesel tanks and two tanks filled with an oil mixture were burned, along with a huge front-end loader and other equipment.
Firefighters from Chelan County fire districts 1 and 8 and Douglas County Fire District 2 were summoned.
Baker said there were plans to evacuate 30 homes across the highway as a safety precaution. But fire officials determined that it would not be necessary.
The highway was closed in both directions until 7 a.m.
The fire sent a plume of smoke drifting south through the Wenatchee Valley. State Department of Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said air conditions here are likely to worsen through the morning, but the industrial smoke should thin out as the day goes on.
“We’re still calculating the readings there in Wenatchee and it’ll be some time,” she said. “But we do expect it should disperse with daytime heating today.”
The Chelan-Douglas Health District issued a health alert due to the toxic smoke pouring from the blaze.
Spill responders from the department may visit the site later to examine the aftermath and make cleanup recommendations, Redfield-Wilder said. The fire will be investigated by the Chelan County fire marshal.
Plant manager Tyson Morris said the plant is one of eight owned by the company in Central Washington and its only one in the Wenatchee area. He said the fire will put the plant out of production for at least a week, and will affect paving projects in the area.
The company’s largest projects are the Eastmont Avenue extension in East Wenatchee and Tumwater Canyon paving west of Leavenworth.
“This puts a lot of people out of work for a bit,” Baker said.