YAKIMA, Wash. — The wildfire that blackened half of Hanford nuclear reservation burned 11 houses "down to the ground" — fewer than the two dozen initially believed to have been destroyed last week in Benton City.
A total of 40 structures burned, including the 11 houses, Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Ron Scott said Wednesday.
Early reports indicated 20 to 25 homes south of the reservation were lost in the fire, but Scott said it took some time to verify exactly how many had been destroyed.
A total damage estimate for places on and off the Hanford site was not yet available.
The wind-driven range fire, which started at the northwestern corner of the 560-square-mile reservation June 27, burned 191,000 acres, but no nuclear or chemical waste storage facilities were damaged.
Last Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set up 24 high-volume air monitoring stations off the reservation.
Two sets of results are back from the stations, and none showed elevated radiation readings even after a wind storm blew around ash and dirt on Friday evening, forcing the closure of a highway.
EPA began breaking down its station network on Tuesday, said Jerry Leitch, the agency's radiation program manager in Seattle.
Monitoring stations were set up in Walla Walla, Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, Benton City, Sunnyside, Grandview, Toppenish, Yakima, Mattawa, Royal City, Othello, Connell, Mesa and some less-populated areas.
At one point during the fire, as many as 7,000 people were evacuated from neighborhoods south of the reservation. One man was burned and more than a dozen people suffered smoke inhalation.
The U.S. Department of Energy is surveying Hanford for damage and a better sense of the boundaries of the fire, spokesman Erik Olds said.
Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest's only commercial nuclear power plant, is powering back up and should be at full power on Thursday, spokesman Don McManman said.
The plant shut down automatically June 26 because of an apparent electrical short, but the restart was delayed last week by the fire. The plant is located on the reservation, and only essential personnel were allowed to report to work at Hanford during the fire.
Additionally, the Department of Energy is expected soon to reschedule its first shipment of radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
Thirty-three 55-gallon drums filled with clothing, tools and debris will make the 1,800-mile trip from south-central Washington to the underground dump near Carlsbad, N.M.
The shipment was postponed last month because of paperwork problems, and it reportedly was again delayed last week due to the fire.
A new shipment date is expected to be announced soon, Olds said.