Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When Wildfire Rages Near Gorge Concerts, What’s The Plan?

If you're at the Gorge Amphitheatre in central Washington and there's a large wildfire -- you might want to consider missing the next set of your favorite band. Just on Sunday, a 600-acre wildfire raged about three miles from the main stage where Alabama Shakes and The Cure were playing.

Sasquatch and other large concerts can draw as many as 25,000 people. So what happens if a bad wildfire hits and everyone wants to exit all at once -- even the campers?

“We know that it takes several hours to have people leave the Gorge under normal conditions after a concert,” Grant County Sheriff’s spokesman, Kyle Foreman said. “Under emergency conditions after a concert, it would probably as well take several hours.”

County and Gorge officials do an emergency training exercise every year running through the written plan. But Foreman said they can’t really field-test tens of thousands of people in cars wanting to leave under high stress.

On May 29, a boating family’s 2 p.m. campfire on shore got out of a fire ring and quickly spread to nearby sagebrush. The fire grew quickly and was burning near Sunland Estates, a river-shore resort community near the Gorge at George. The wind was driving the fire away from the Gorge, and law enforcement and fire managers were keeping a close eye on the situation all weekend. All available county resources were called in fast, and then state resources mobilized late in the day. The fire was out by dawn on Monday.

Another fast fire also burned in Grant County over the weekend. A 2,000-acre fire started Friday and was burning about 25 miles east of Soap Lake and was put out by firefighters. It was more remote and didn’t threaten large numbers of people.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.