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Washington Fire Crews Fight To Keep Buffer Between Wildfire, Nuclear Reactor

Kevin Stock
The Range 12 Fire is burning more than 177,000 acres in southeast Washington state.

Officials from the Hanford nuclear reservation and Energy Northwest have been meeting with fire managers in southeast Washington state Tuesday. The nearby Range 12 Fire has grown to more than 177,000 acres and high winds are predicted this evening.

Fire managers are very serious about keeping the Range 12 Fire off the central portion of the Hanford nuclear site and away from the Northwest’s only nuclear reactor.

Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network
Northwest News Network
Bureau of Land Management spokesman Randall Rishe

"We have firefighters and engines stationed around the entire perimeter of the fire and the entire flank of the eastern side where the Hanford site is,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Randall Rishe said Tuesday. “So if there is a slop over, if there is a spot, they can get it immediately.”

Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken called the fire's distance from the reactor a "non-issue," citing Sunday night's deliberate back burn of Rattlesnake Mountain between the Range 12 Fire and Hanford. However, fire crews were still active on Rattlesnake Tuesday.

Helicopters won't be able to fly if gusts reach 20-30 miles per hour as predicted.

So far, no Hanford staff have been told to leave work.

Fire managers said they are confident in their dozer and hand line around the fire’s perimeter -- but the high winds will test crews putting out hot spots within the black.

The Range 12 Fire is currently the largest wildfire on a list of active wildfires across the U.S. being managed by government agencies.

Editor's note: this story has been updated with comment from Energy Northwest.

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.