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Kitsap and Mason county firefighters battle dual fires along Highway 3

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Lt. Dan Ahrens, left, and Kitsap County Fire Marshall David Lynam, right, assess the damage to the forest after a duel fire on Highway 3 that erupted Sept. 20 near Bremerton National Airport. - William Lewis/Staff Photo
South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Lt. Dan Ahrens, left, and Kitsap County Fire Marshall David Lynam, right, assess the damage to the forest after a duel fire on Highway 3 that erupted Sept. 20 near Bremerton National Airport.
— image credit: William Lewis/Staff Photo

Firefighters from Mason and Kitsap counties last week teamed up to fight a twin set of brushfires that broke out near Highway 3.

The blazes erupted simultaneously around 2:30 p.m. in two separate spots near Imperial Way, across the road from the Bremerton National Airport and further south, near Lake Flora. Mason County firefighters from various agencies handled the Lake Flora fire and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue worked to extinguish the flames of the northern most fire.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Lt. Dan Ahrens said that his crew immediately knew it was a three-alarm fire when they saw the amount of smoke billowing into the air from the affected area nearest to the airport.

“We didn't have enough water to stop it,” Ahrens said. “We followed the smoke columns and we came to a stop, pulled over, did a pre-connect and did what we could. We got the other crews and got our lines connected to the airport and sprayed it with water. When you have a lot of smoke you know you have a lot of fire.”

Kitsap County Fire Marshal David Lynam, who was assisting at both trouble spots, said that the Lake Flora fire was 200 feet long and burned 50 feet into the woods along Highway 3 before firefighters got the situation contained.

Firefighters used bulldozers to cut lines through the affected area, in addition to dropping dirt on the flames, which supplemented their firetruck water supply, since they were at a further distance from the water supply lines at the industrial park near Bremerton National Airport.

“It's digging up dirt and moving brush back. It stops the fire from spreading and contains the combustable materials,” Lynam said. “We didn't want it to spread to Belfair.”

Mason County Fire Department Capt. Carl Ehresman said that cutting fire lines with bulldozers, deep into the ground and containing the flames is an efficient method in extinguishing fires, such as the one that broke out near Lake Flora.

“We dig it down to the mineral soil because fire can't burn dirt,” Ehresman said.

After firefighters cut the fire lines and dumped dirt and water on the flames, his crew then used overhauling techniques on the fire. Without taking this extra step, the fire-lining efforts and the thousands of gallons of water might still fail to fully stop the blaze," he said.

“It's basically going through and knocking down the small spot fires to make sure that everything has cooled down,” Ehresman said. “You can have another fire break out if you don't do overhaul and do it properly, especially if the wind picks up.”

Ehresman said that his crew used 9,000 gallons of water on the Lake Flora fire at the end of the afternoon and expected to use 20,000 gallons before the time the fire was fully extinguished.

The incident left several motorists waiting in their cars while fire teams worked to put the flames out and several frightened residents who live in homes along the highway felt that their lives were in danger, particularly because there was nowhere in either direction to run.

Ian Maesner, a resident on Highway 3 said that he was preparing for the worst and that the most terrible thing about the incident was being stuck between both fires.

“I was freaked out,” he said. “I pulled up my trailer to my truck and grabbed all of my papers like my birth certificate. I've never been this close to a wildfire on each side of me. I've been next to a house fire but never where there was one on each side. It was a shock.”

Firefighters successfully contained the blazes to a smoldering level by the late afternoon on Thursday. Both fires occurred within the Kitsap County portion of Highway 3.

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