San Juan crew joins battle against 'Monastery' fire, near Goldendale

When the ferry sailed out of Friday Harbor on Wednesday, at 10 p.m., a San Juan Island Fire Department crew was on board, with a wildland fire engine in tow.

Their assignment: team up with fire fighters and five fire engines drawn from Snohomish and Whatcom counties as a "Strike Team", and then head east, and join in the battle against Klickitat County's "Monastery" fire.

As of Wednesday, the Monastery fire had blazed nearly 1,000 acres in the vicinity of Goldendale, burned nine homes and forced the evacuation of numerous homeowners in the area.

Accompanied by San Juan's Lieutenant Michael Henderson and firefighter Gilbert Venegas, the strike team traveled through the night to be ready to be assigned to the fire line by 6 a.m., Thursday.

Henderson and Venegas may be away as long as a week. If the assignment extends beyond seven days, a relief crew may be sent, according to Chief Steve Marler of San Juan Island Fire Department.

As in many wildland fires, Marler said that local people do what they can to save their own community. In Goldendale, home to St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, several nuns dressed in traditional habits armed themselves with hoses and doused the outskirts of the fire as it approached the monastery.

San Juan Island's fire department participates in a statewide mobilization system, run by the Washington State Patrol.  That system allows for resources from throughout the state to be sent to a major fire.

Marler said the mobilization system benefits San Juan Island in that it allows local firefighters to gain experience that they can share when they return. The system would also send help to the island if it were ever be needed.



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