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Nine homes burn in Washington wildfire

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 8, 2011, 7:30 p.m.

GOLDENDALE, Wash. — The Greek Orthodox nuns from a south-central Washington monastery dumped water on smoldering tree trunks and embers today, grateful for their safety and their still-standing buildings a day after a wildfire burned around their forested sanctuary.

Others weren’t so lucky: State officials confirmed that nine homes and 10 outbuildings had burned in a wildfire that has charred more than 8 square miles north of Goldendale near Satus Pass.

Josh Christensen watched from the highway as the fire crept up a neighboring canyon, then wished his neighbors well as he hopped in his pickup to head home and prepare for potential flames. His wife and two children already had left their home in the hills outside of town.

“If it jumps this highway, we’re done,” he said.

About 300 people have been evacuated because of the fire, which has burned more than 5,300 acres. More than 400 firefighters were fighting the blaze.

The fire was believed to have started along U.S. Highway 97 north of Goldendale, just across the street from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner. The 19 nuns and employees, who operate a well-known bakery there, saw flames and immediately ran outside with water, rakes and rags to beat back the fire.

Several customers in the bakery also joined in the effort until firefighters arrived, said Sister Parthenia, who has been at the monastery for 19 years.

“We’re just so grateful to God and everyone’s efforts. The firefighters worked so hard, even opened up a line up there,” she said, pointing behind one of their buildings. “We thought that was sweet they wanted to save our barn.”

The nuns evacuated their dozen-or-so goats. The flames crept up to the edge of their buildings and a cemetery, leaving the wooden crosses intact.

“It was very scary,” said Sister Theopisti. “Thanks to the blessings of God and prayer.”

There were no reports of any injuries, said Dale Warriner, interagency management team spokesman. Brooks Memorial State Park is closed. Traffic is disrupted on Highway 97 between Toppenish and Goldendale.

Fire managers are operating from the county fairgrounds in Goldendale.


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