Evacuees allowed to see if homes are still standing

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by AP, KREM.com, KING5 News

KREM.com

Posted on August 17, 2012 at 6:52 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 2:15 PM

(CLE ELUM, Wash.) -- Many of the residents who had to run for their lives from a central Washington wildfire are being allowed back into the evacuation area Friday to see whether their homes are still standing.

The crews battling the Taylor Bridge wildfire in Kittitas County said late Thursday that they had contained 33 percent of the fire and estimated they would reach 100 percent containment by Sunday.

The team coordinating the fire-fighting effort said "the fire remained calm and mop-up activities began in the southeastern portion of the fire [on Thursday]. Firefighters focused efforts on the southwestern and northern edges of the fire where steep rocky terrain continues to challenge firefighters."

Progress on Thursday was enough to allow some residents to return home. A map released by the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office on Thursday showed evacuation levels have been lifted for some residents near the southeast corner of the fire.

View the latest maps of the fire

Exactly how many people have been allowed to return home wasn't immediately clear, but the area that was reopened to residents comprises only a small part of the burned territory.

"I feel for you, I can tell you my staff does, we're going to do everything we can," Reed told homeowners at a community meeting Wednesday evening.

Wilson Creek, Alford Road, Look Road, Rustic Acres, and areas east of there have reopened. Evacuation orders have reduced from Level 3 to Level 2 on Sunlight Drive, Clubhouse Drive, Cricklewood Lane, Ellensburg Ranches Road and Hayward Road.

Both U.S. 97 and S.R. 10 run directly through the fire and remain closed.

Photos: Fire damage in the Sunlight Waters neighborhood

Photos of damage to homes near Kittitas Valley Wind Farm

High temperatures and dry weather continue to hinder crews battling the fire. The National Weather Service issued a "red flag" warning for the east slope of the Cascades starting mid-day Friday and going through Saturday night. The warning cited hot temperatures and the chance for thunderstorms.

"Definitely, fire activity is going to increase more," said fire incident commander Rex Reed. "Even that much more tomorrow as we get a more unstable atmosphere."

"We've got some pretty active fire weather coming in here the next couple of days, so we have to get after it and get this thing wrapped up," Reed told firefighters at a briefing.

Weather forecast for the fire zone

Here is what the fire situation looked like as of Thursday evening:

     --22,787 acres burned
     --955 fire and other personnel deployed
     --33 percent contained
     --100 structures destroyed, including at least 60 homes (estimate, not an official count)

Half a dozen aircraft were flying the fire again Thursday, dropping thousands of gallons of water and retardant. Washington National Guard helicopters alone dropped 80,000 gallons of water on the fire on Wednesday.

The focus for the next 24 hours will be on Hidden Valley and Bettas Valley, where firefighters will patrol hotspots west of Reecer Creek Road and South of Lower Green Canyon. Fire also continues to burn strong in the Swauk Creek Basin and Lauderdale Junction areas.

Some families have fire lines on their property, but some have also refused to leave.

"It's about a half mile from my place right now, if the wind changes it will be there fast," said one man. "[We don't] want to be there, but [don't] want to leave everything we've got."

Injured firefighter recovering

Fire commanders say a firefighter is recovering at home for a few days after suffering minor facial burns Wednesday at the Taylor Bridge Fire in central Washington.

Fire officials said in a statement Thursday that members of an engine crew attempted to leave an area where a tree had torched with flames, but found their vehicle wouldn't start.

The firefighter was injured while evacuating on foot, evaluated at the scene and transported to Kittitas Valley Community Hospital, where the firefighter was treated and released.

The name and unit of the firefighter were not released. The remaining engine crew members are working at the fire.

Resources

Emergency shelters are at: 

     -- Cle Elum Centennial Senior Center, 719 E. Third Street, Cle Elum, (509) 963-1141
     -- Central Washington University, Munson Dorms, Ellensburg, (509) 674-7530
     -- Animals evacuated to the Kittitas County Fairground

Donations are being accepted by the Red Cross. The Kittitas County Sheriff has said money, not goods, are the best way to help residents. Find out how you can help.

Firefighters were able to increase containment of the Taylor Bridge fire from 10 to 15 percent Wednesday, taking advantage of dying winds. But full containment requires about 40 miles of fire line, according to Reed, and could take another five to seven days.

There is concern that state firefighting resources may soon be strained. A wildfire that sparked Tuesday near Grand Coulee Dam grew to 8,000 acres as of early Thursday.

Construction on Taylor Bridge near S.R. 10 is believed to have caused the fire on Monday.

Related links:

Info: How you can help

Kittitas Community Connect Facebook page

Facebook page for evacuated and injured pets and animals

Stunning fire photos from Daily Record newspaper

Watch: SkyKING video over burned homes, structures

Excessive heat warning in Western Washington

Photos of the fire can be sent to KING 5 via email, Twitter, Facebook, or posted directly to KING5.com using Your News.

Associated Press and KING 5 reporting.

 

A spokesman at the fire command center in Cle Elum, Mick Mueller, says residents are returning to the south and east side of the 35-square mile burn zone.

He says utility crews also are working to restore power in the area, even as firefighters continue to put out hot spots.

About 900 firefighters with eight helicopters continue building a line around the fire, which is about one-third contained.

The fire broke out Monday at a bridge construction project and burned about 70 homes on the east side of the Cascades, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

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