Bateman Island expected to reopen after nearly a year of closure - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Bateman Island expected to reopen after nearly a year of closure

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RICHLAND, WA - For those of you patiently waiting for Richland's Bateman Island to reopen, you might not have to wait too much longer.

A fire burned 70 acres of the popular area last July, closing it to the public for nearly a year. And now, what was once black and charred, is green and lush again.

"The grass came in strong," said Shawn Harper, Parks and Facilities Supervisor for the City of Richland. "Everything is looking really, really healthy out there."

After a fire closed Bateman Island for eleven months, Richland city officials are hoping to take the sign blocking the entrance down. They've also been doing walkthroughs over these past couple of weeks to make sure it's safe.

"There's a lot of hazards and stuff on the island that we've since then gone and cleaned up," said Harper.

They're not only dealing with the aftermath of the fire.

"When we had a lot of flooding, the water came up and it actually flooded quite a bit of the island," Harper said.

The water has since receded and now Bateman Island is one step closer to reopening.

"As long as the water continues to go down from the flooding and those puddles subside, we'll be really close to opening the gate and letting people in."

The Army Corps of Engineers is going to do one inspection with the City of Richland to make sure it's safe before they reopen Bateman Island to the public.


11-7-17 UPDATE:

RICHLAND, WA - It's been about 4 months since a fire tore through Bateman Island. The fire was contained within a few days, but the island has been closed to the public ever since.

So what's keeping the island closed?

There's still some pretty obvious burned areas, and it still smells like fire...but there is also a good amount of green growing through the charred ground.

In total, about a third of the island burned back in July, as the Richland Fire Department worked around the clock to keep it from spreading.

As Richland Fire Chief Tom Huntington said at the time, the Bateman Island fire was something very different than they were used to.

"We're not really equipped for these long duration fires, and you know when we have trees involved, and bigger fuels and so this has really been a challenge for us," Chief Huntington said.

But now, it's a world of a difference.

Richland Parks and Public Facilities Director Joe Schiessl was out there about a month ago and says even in that time there's been a lot more green.

 "If you look closely behind me you'll see that there are a lot of sprouts coming up under the trees, in areas where it was open grass," Schiessl said. "The grass, the grass is coming back, so all signs point to vegetation coming back on its own." 

But there's still more work that Mother Nature needs to do before it can reopen.

"The City doesn't own the island, we're only the leasees, the Corps of Engineers owns the island so it's federal property," said Schiessl, "so we really have to answer to the federal government in this case and they are providing instructions that we need to keep the island closed until we can make sure it is safe for the public to return and then be that the vegetation has grown back enough to protect all the resources on the island."

And if Mother Nature needs help greening the island back up? The City knows just who to call.

"One group has told me that they have an army of individuals who are willing to come out and help with vegetation growth and it might be the case that we'll have to take them up on that," he said. "We're just waiting to see what nature wants to do on its own first."

At this point, it's hard to know exactly when the island will reopen; the City is hoping for sometime next spring.

But there is some good news as well - we saw plenty of birds while we were out there...evidence that other wildlife on Bateman Island is doing just fine.


7-20-17 UPDATE:

RICHLAND, WA - It's been burning for nearly a week, and we learned today that the fire on Bateman Island is racking up a hefty bill.

We can't give you an exact number, but Richland Fire Chief Tom Huntington estimates fighting this fire has cost close to $100,000. But unlike most wildfires that are funded by state or federal agencies, because Bateman Island is part of Richland city property, the bill for this fire is falling on the city's lap.

From the road, it's hard to tell anything is amiss on Bateman Island. But travel just a couple hundred yards in, and it's a very different story. In fact, Chief Huntington says it's one of the most difficult fires he's ever faced.

"We're not really equipped for these long duration fires, where we have trees involved and bigger fuels," Chief Huntington said. "So it's been really challenging for us to staff this week because we just don't have the depth regionally for this kind of fuel model."

They've been able to keep the fire from spreading much beyond the initial 70 acres. But that comes at a cost.

"At this point, I'd say we're probably running $15-20,000 a day," he said.

In addition to crews from all over Benton and Franklin Counties, Richland Fire has also hired firefighters from a private company called Tri-City Forestry, and is requesting crews from the Department of Corrections.

"We'll have somewhere between 80-100, 125 firefighters down here, is the plan, for tomorrow and Saturday with the hopes that we can be done by end of operational period Saturday."

But don't expect the island to reopen anytime soon.

"As you can see, a lot of trees have burned and those continue to be a hazard until they drop or are cut down, and we will be putting together a plan to deal with those risks on the longer term."

Now exactly where that money is coming from is unclear. Chief Huntington will be presenting the Richland City Council with a budget during their regular meeting this upcoming Tuesday.

But it's not just the size of the fire, or the dense brush making things tricky for firefighters. Bateman Island is also home to sacred Native American burial sites.

The firefighters don't know where the burial sites are located, and that means they need to treat all 100-plus acres of land as delicately as possible, while also trying to keep the fire from spreading any further than it already has.

"You know, we're on ground that the Native Americans used far before we were here," said Chief Huntington. "There's just so many things to consider and stakeholders that are interested in how this plays out, are we're working really hard to be respectful of all of those and really take a strong team approach on this."

Today, Chief Huntington met with a biologist to check in on the island ecosystem, and tomorrow he's meeting with an archaeologist to make sure none of the historic sites are damaged.

"They'll be able to give us some additional guidance on those historical and archeological concerns, cultural concerns that we want to be really aware of down here."

If there's any silver lining to this fire, it's that it appears most of the island wildlife was able to escape the path of the flames.

"When we got out here, we saw a couple does right in front of us. We've counted four does, two fawns, a big buck, we've seen lots of skunk, a bunch of birds back in the area so it looks like wildlife is adapting really well. " 

But just because it's safe for the animals, doesn't mean it's safe for humans.

"It's still really, really dangerous out here. There are pockets out here. If people step down they could burn up to their knee. We've got trees that are still coming down, there are flare ups, its hazardous down here and we really need people to respect our request to stay off the island."

When they say the island is closed, they mean all of it. Chief Huntington says they've had several kayakers and swimmers get up to shore, and it's creating a dangerous environment for both firefighters and the public.



RICHLAND, WA - Crews are still working on the tail end of the Bateman Island Fire that sparked yesterday evening, and was seen in the sky throughout the Tri-Cities area. Firefighters do have a strong handle on it now, and at this point it's mostly cleanup work.

You may not see any more flames or smoke coming out of Bateman Island from the fire, but fire crews say completely extinguishing the fire is going to take a while...possibly even months.

A day after Bateman Island went up in flames, firefighters are still out there putting out hot spots left over after most of the fire has been put out.

"We have a Fish and Wildlife crew behind us doing what we call mop up," said Joe Derousie with the Richland Fire Department. "They're going through, finding any smoldering, maybe lightly burning areas, making sure they're completely extinguished."

But even as crews go through these areas, they say it's impossible to know where every hot spot is, which means it'll take a significant rainfall to ensure all the hot spots are put out...which might not happen until fall.

But even getting to this fire was tough for first responders because the island isn't suited for vehicles at all, restricting access for most fire trucks.

"The one-way-in, one-way-out, as you guys walked in on that causeway, it's narrow for trucks," Derousie said. "There are certain trucks that we can't get down in here because they're just too big."

Today, the City of Richland closed Bateman Island indefinitely because of the dangers of those lingering hot spots, as well as the crews coming in and out of the area continuing to work on the island.

Fire crews say they still don't know what exactly caused the fire, but they are saying it was most likely human-caused because there was no lightning at the time or anything else that could've naturally started the fire.



RICHLAND, WA - Fire Chief Tom Huntington tells NBC Right Now the containment lines they set up for the fire on Bateman Island held overnight. Right now, they are monitoring hot spots, but say we could see smoke from the fire throughout the week. 

The fire marshal, the City of Richland, and other firefighters will be going to the site later Monday morning to look at the scene.

Richland Police opened up Columbia Park Trail from CCB to Florida Street around 2:00 Monday morning. 

Firefighters had a hard time getting the fire out because there was about ten years of growth on the island. They also tell us, there's a chance the fire won't be fully contained until it rains in the Fall. 

Chief Huntington is asking people to stay off the island because there are trees and branches falling. 


RICHLAND, WA - Firefighters are keeping an eye on hot spots on Bateman Island after a fire Sunday night. The Richland Fire Department evacuated people off the island before 7:00 p.m.

Firefighters tell NBC Right Now it's a tough place to battle the flames because there is only one way on and off the island.

Richland Police closed Columbia Park Trail from CCB to Florida Street so firefighters could get to the scene. 

So far no injuries have been reported. No word on what started the fire.