A man lighting a pile of tumbleweeds on fire
Hanford Fire Captain Dave Wheeler lights a pile of tumbleweeds on the Hanford Site during controlled burns in the spring and summer to clear brush near roadways and facilities.

RICHLAND, Wash. — The Hanford Fire Department is using prescribed burns at the 580-square-mile EM cleanup site to reduce wildfire risks in the late spring and summer.

The controlled fires help manage the significant accumulation of tumbleweeds during windstorms in southeastern Washington state that pile up in low areas, along fence lines and roads and near facilities.

“The fast-burning and mobile plants can quickly turn a manageable brush fire into a much larger wildfire,” said Brian Harkins, EM Hanford assistant manager for Mission Support. “This proactive approach to fire management underscores our commitment to sustain continuous cleanup operations and protect site personnel, government property, the community and the environment.”

A pile of burning brush with a firetruck parked behind it
Clearing and burning brush is a proven fire protection method that can halt or hinder the spread of a wildfire.
Piles of tumbleweed alongside a road being burned
Hanford Site firefighters burn tumbleweeds that have piled up along State Highway 240, which runs through the site and has been closed during severe windstorms because large piles of tumbleweeds have blocked traffic and trapped motorists.

From March through August, the fire department, managed by contractor Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, conducts the burns, prioritizing the safety of personnel and environmental conservation.

“Prescribed burns are a safe, proven technique for reducing fire hazards,” said Nick Thomas, interim fire chief. “This method prevents the accumulation of potential fire fuels, such as dried vegetation, around critical areas, ensuring our natural landscapes are safer and more resilient.”

Safety remains a priority for the fire department, extending beyond site protections to encompass the surrounding communities. Through careful planning and implementation, the fire department uses prescribed burns as an effective risk management method, reinforcing its pledge to sustain high standards for safety at the Hanford Site.

-Contributor: Cerise Peck