Helicopter with bucket scooped water out of the lake Wednesday

By Calvin Bratt
  LYNDEN — A wildfire in peat ground east of Wiser Lake was contained Wednesday evening, but crews still fought and monitored the persistent burning on Thursday.
  Ben Hood, incident commander for the state Department of Natural Resources, said he might be on site for up to a week to make sure the 5.5-acre fire is fully out.
  It was spotted and reported first to North Whatcom Fire & Rescue about noon Wednesday. Within hours, the state’s wildfire fighting capacity was called in, and at one point there were 37 people and various pieces of equipment involved on this fire and a smaller one in woodland in the Kendall area, Hood said.
  The 4-acre Kendall fire is also contained.
  A DNR helicopter with a 250-gallon bucket, flown in from Skagit County, scooped water out of Wiser Lake for about two hours mid-afternoon Wednesday to help bring the billowing smoky blaze under control enough to where ground crews could see where to attack, Hood said.
  “The smoke was so thick we couldn’t safefy see what was happening,” Hood said. “Peat is very difficult to deal with.”
  On site were the state agency’s own people for summer wildfire fighting as well as some Washington Conservation Corps workers. A Nielsen Brothers excavator was brought in to tear away blackberry bushes as well as to stir up the surface soil for hotspots.
  Approximately a dozen firefighters were working at 1 p.m. Thusday in the spongy but dry land about a half mile east of Wiser Lake. A big six-inch hose supplied water to a continuously shooting water cannon, while at least three smaller hoses to firefighters kept up steady streams of water back and forth across the burnt ground, working with the excavator.
  “It will take multiple passes to really extinguish it,” Hood said.
  It may also take a week for state and county fire investigators to determine how the fire started, he said.
  Hay was being taken off this land by Blok’s Evergreen Dairy — for the first time in 10-15 years since a previous farmer did, said Terry DeWaard, who works for Bloks and was now using a 7,300-gallon tanker truck to bring water to the fire site.
  It has only been a grass crop of some kind when the land has been cultivated at all, he said.
  “That’s why they’re having such a hard time fighting it,” DeWaard said of the peat soil.
  Hood said crews are working from about 6:30 a.m. to evening. Some workers are close enough to go home at night, while others shower and sleep in a makeshift camp.
  He said that in general DNR has seen a “slow and moderate” wildfire season in Washington State so far, although that could change at any time.