Massive wildfire inconveniences truckers

GOLDENDALE, Wash. -- Two large wildfires in Central Washington are still growing Monday night. Combined, the Mile Marker 28 Fire and Colockum Tarps Fire make up three-quarters of the size of Seattle. Mile Marker 28 is about 25-percent contained. And, Colockum Tarps is only at about five percent containment and has destroyed some homes.

Firefighters are trying to build fire lines as boundaries that the flames won't be able to cross. That's the big challenge. It's also a challenge for truckers trying to get where they need to go with Highway 97 staying closed.

It's been five days and counting. There's no access to Highway 97 between Toppenish and Goldendale. Closing the vital artery connecting Central Washington to Portland makes it rough for truck drivers like Felix Gutierrez.

"It's getting ridiculous cause you need to add more hours, more miles just to make the same trip," said Felix.

Greg Graves is another one feeling the stress. The detours make it difficult to make their deliveries on time. And, they're using more gas.

"Four dollars plus a gallon fuel adds more fuel to my costs as operator," said Greg.

More than 80-percent of Washington businesses depend on trucks to move their goods. That is now more expensive. The American Trucking Association said every mile of the detour adds 60 cents to the trip. Truckers can only drive 11 hours in a 14-hour work day.

"Are you making it on time?" asked KIMA.
"No, I'm about two hours, two and a half hours behind schedule every time I travel that way," said Felix.

Felix Gutierrez said the longer drive forces him to be more careful. The detours are unfamiliar.

"It is pretty dangerous, especially on hills when you don't know exactly the roads, and you gotta go through all those hills," said Felix.

The Department of Transportation said Highway 97 will stay closed for the next several days. DOT continues to meet every morning to evaluate the conditions. Right now, the conditions aren't good enough for authorities to say when it will open again to traffic.