The Silver Dollar Fire eradicated almost half of the world's known Umtanum Desert buckwheat when the flames roared through Yakima and Benton counties across the Hanford Reach National Monument torching about 30,000 acres.

No structures were burned, but the yellow flowering plants found nowhere else in the world, were reduced by a least half because of the fire and it could be worse once the level of stress on the surviving plants from the fire's heat is determined months from now.

Umtanum Desert buckwheat was discovered in 1995 and has been protected since 2013 under the Endangered Species Act.

Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The plant grows very slowly, some plants are up to 100 years old, on Umtanum Ridge, the steep basalt cliffs that overlook the Columbia River facing north. It grows on the top edges of the slopes at elevations between 1,100 and 1,320 feet and blooms May to August.

Most years, their remote location on the rocky edge of the ridge provides fire protection. But the once-in-a-generation winter that just passed allowed underbrush growth to carry fire to the plants.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said there are some islands of plants that were not affected and that seeds are being collected to try and replace what was lost and bolster what is already there.

The cause and location of the Silver Dollar Fire that started July 2 has not been determined, but the Bureau of Land Management officials say while they can't determine if it was deliberate, they have concluded the fire was caused by people.

Really rare species of botanical treasures are half-wiped out because of a completely preventable fire. Sad.

Article information source here.

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