August 24, 2009 in City

Firefighters make progress against 2 Wash. wildfires

Moxee cafe in ’no man’s land’ burns in wildfire
Associated Press

MOXEE, Wash. — The owners of a landmark restaurant near Moxee wonder why none of the firefighters who were eating hamburgers at the Silver Dollar Cafe told them it was at risk.

The restaurant burned Friday evening in a wildfire that covered about 76 square miles of grass and brush. That fire was about 80 percent contained Monday with full containment expected within hours.

Most firefighters on the Dry Creek Complex in southeast Washington will be sent home Tuesday, fire spokesman Dale Warriner said Monday night.

The state’s other major wildfire, the Oden Road fire near Okanogan in northcentral Washington, grew to about 16 square miles Monday and threatened about 90 homes. Fire crews still were able to make progress, and by Monday night, the blaze was 70 percent contained, spokesman Dwight Robanske said. Officials also reopened State Highway 20 between Okanogan and Twisp.

There were about 685 people fighting the lightning-caused blaze late Monday, Robanske said. The fire has destroyed two homes and one vacation home.

The Silver Dollar Cafe was owned by Rick and Martha Lounsbury of Terrace Heights, who also lost a mobile home they owned near the restaurant they bought last December.

Warriner earlier told The Yakima Herald-Republic the restaurant was in a “no man’s land” not covered by any fire district.

Late Sunday afternoon, the Lounsburys trudged around the charred remains of the decades-old diner on State Route 24.

“This was really a funky building with the best customers in the world,” Martha Lounsbury said.

Locals came for the daily special to this place, with its stone entrance, petrified wood front, dark-paneled walls, varnished plywood ceiling, burgundy booths and long bar with swiveled seats.

All of that except the stone entrance burned to the ground about dinner time Friday night.

Lightning started two major fires in federal and private lands north of Sunnyside to the Columbia River, straddling state routes 241 and 24. The cafe sat at that intersection.

This stretch of Route 24 falls under no fire district’s responsibility, officials from multiple agencies said.

The fire moved fast throughout the area and crews from the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Richland, Walla Walla and Hanford were fighting different parts of it.

“I just kept watching the smoke but didn’t feel threatened at all. There were firefighters inside. If they’d just have even said the wind was moving closer …” she trailed off. “I don’t know.”

Her husband was on his way to the diner with his daughter in a borrowed water truck when he saw the flames. But firefighters on State Route 24 didn’t let him through, he said.

“I don’t blame the firefighters, but I blame the mismanagement of superiors,” said Rick Lounsbury, who works in cement mixing. “If it’s a no-man’s land, why wouldn’t they let me in with the water truck to fight the fire?”

Nobody was hurt in the fire, and the Lounsburys will meet with insurance investigators.

“This restaurant is like a little community out here,” Rick said. “We knew the Hanford workers by name, the farm workers down here. We knew them all.”

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