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Irrigation Systems Help Slow Fire

September 7, 1988

ENTIAT, Wash. (AP) _ Fruit growers turned on their irrigation systems to help fight a fire that exploded by 25,000 acres in 24 hours, threatening Washington’s important apple crop.

The irrigation systems helped keep the fast-growing Dinkleman Fire from jumping the Entiat River on Tuesday, the last major barrier between the flames and this central Washington town of 400 residents.

″They started up the irrigation systems around their homes,″ said Nick Mickel of the state Department of Natural Resources. ″The irrigation stopped the flames.

″That was a major factor in slowing the spread down along the Entiat River,″ Mickel said. ″That saved those orchards from being damaged.″

The fire is concentrated in a narrow canyon in the Cascade Mountains near the Columbia River, and has raced through heavy timber and tinder-dry grass along the hillsides. The blaze, believed to be human-caused, grew from about 160 acres Monday.

The lush green fruit orchards that run for miles along the opposite bank of the Entiat River remained undamaged. The orchards are the backbone of the local economy, and would take years to replace.

The heavy moisture that collects in the trees and underlying grass from the irrigation makes the orchards a natural firebreak, Mickel said.

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Department asked growers along a five-mile stretch of the river to turn on their sprinklers Monday night, Mickel said. Many sprinklers remained on Tuesday morning, and growers also used hoses to wet down the roofs of farmhouses near the flames.

At some points the flames were just 400 feet from homes, climbing spectacularly up the trunks of trees, and heavy smoke blanketed the entire canyon.

Bill Self, the owner of Entiat Natural Orchards, credited quick action by firefighters, rather than his irrigation system, for saving his house, packing shed and trees.

Embers flying across the river ignited vegetation above his property, and winds pushed the flames down toward the buildings, he said.

″Several helicopters and 50 ground crew with bulldozers came within five minutes,″ Self said. ″They brought everybody up here and saved the farm.

″Lots of people complain about where their tax dollars go but I’ll gladly pay my taxes for this kind of service,″ Self said.

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