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Fort Ebey fire claims three acres of grassland

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighters Marc deLeuze and Bill McArthur assist Joe Barney and Karissa Lawson climb back up the bluff in Fort Ebey State Park Wednesday after a fire claimed about three acres of grassland. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighters Marc deLeuze and Bill McArthur assist Joe Barney and Karissa Lawson climb back up the bluff in Fort Ebey State Park Wednesday after a fire claimed about three acres of grassland.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

The cause of a fire that consumed about three acres of grassland and bluff at Fort Ebey State Park Wednesday is still unknown, but authorities believe it may have been started by a lit cigarette.

Ranger Curt Steinagel, whose face was dripping with sweat and smudged with soot, said moments after the last embers were extinguished that few other things could have started the blaze.

"The only thing I can think of is someone smoking," Steinagel said.

The fire broke out around 4 p.m. in the grassy area in front of the park's gun emplacement and quickly spread down the bluff. Steinagel and another park employee attacked the fire with rakes and shovels until North Whidbey Fire and Recuse firefighters arrived on scene.

At least three engines responded, along with one tender, but the location of the fire made it impossible for any of them to get close. One truck drove out to the edge of the public stairway and strung a water line out across the field to the fire, which was approximately 100 yards away.

Several firefighters, along with Steinagel, worked on the bluff face itself to contain the fire and look for the last remaining "hot spots." If left unchecked, they could reignite the blaze, said Henry Vandenhaak, operations chief with North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

"With the little breeze that was blowing, all it takes is a little ember," Vandenhaak said.

Steinagel said the fire burned for a total of about one hour. While no one was injured and the only property damage was scorched grassland, there were some tense moments. There was much concern that the wind, which was blowing onto the bluff, would cause the fire to spread up towards the trees and populated areas.

"That was really potentially dangerous because that's the campground," Steinagel said.

While Vandenhaak said no official cause has been determined, Steinagel's cigarette theory makes a lot of sense. The fire probably started on the bluff face, which makes a "flicked butt" a very likely cause, he said.

Whether that truly was the cause, Steinagel said he would be increasing the frequency of his bluff patrols.

"When I see people smoking, they're mine," he said.

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