SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Table Mountain Complex of wildfires in central Washington's Chelan and Kittitas counties has tripled in size to more than 47 square miles, fire spokeswoman Jan Ulrich said Thursday.
A combination of factors -- including warm temperatures, winds, very low humidity and low moisture in the vegetation -- caused the complex to grow and merge into one large fire on Wednesday, Ulrich said.
"It was very active fire behavior yesterday and we are expecting the same today,"' Ulrich said Thursday.
Emergency operations officials said they are watching the fire's massive smoke plume closely. The smoke column reached 40,000 feet on Wednesday and was expected to do the same on Thursday. The fear is that cooler air in the upper atmosphere would cause the column to collapose on itself, spreading hot gas and embers along the fire's base in every direction.
The Table Mountain blaze is being fought by 655 firefighters and is 4 percent contained. Crews from as far away as Arizona and Louisiana are helping fight the fire.
It has not burned any homes, but Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana said Thursday that 161 homes north of Ellensburg and in the Liberty area are under a Level 3 evacuation, meaning residents are urged to leave.
The Table Mountain Complex is one of several wildfires burning on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range. The largest, the Wenatchee River Complex, has grown to about 61 square miles. It is 22 percent contained and is being fought by nearly 2,000 firefighters.
The fires are blanketing Eastern Washington with smoke, and dry conditions have led the state to issue restrictions on logging and other industrial activities in the forests.
The Table Mountain and Wenatchee River complexes are moving closer together, fire officials have said.
Thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires that were sparked up lightning earlier this month up and down the east slopes of the Cascades. Many of the blazes are small and in remote areas, but all together the fires have covered more than 108 square miles.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in the paths of the fires.
Smoke from the fires is pouring across Eastern Washington, obscuring the air 200 miles away in Spokane. State officials have warned of hazardous air quality in Ellensburg and Wenatchee from the thick smoke. They are advising residents to stay indoors, limit physical activity and keep doors and windows closed.
The smoke has already prompted some schools to relocate weekend sporting events. Central Washington University is moving its Saturday football game against Azusa Pacific from Ellensburg to the Seattle suburb of Bothell.
"Unfortunately, areas around Wenatchee remain in the worst shape," said Sean Hopkins, of the state Department of Ecology, in Yakima. "At the same time, other areas are experiencing unhealthy air anywhere smoke lingers from the hundreds of wildfires that are burning."
Air-quality monitors in Chelan County are reading in the hazardous and unhealthy ranges, the agency said. Conditions are getting worse in the Quincy area, and conditions could worsen around Spokane, Pullman and Clarkston.
Central Washington University moved its Saturday football game against Azusa Pacific University from Ellensburg to Bothell, in what would have been the school's home opener. A Friday night high school game between Wenatchee and Eastmont also was moved to Moses Lake.
The Red Cross has re-activated the emergency shelter in Wenatchee at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the corner of 5th and Western.
An emergency animal shelter has been opened at the Chelan County Fairgrounds for large domestic animals. Small animals may be sheltered at the Countryside Veterinary Clinic, 405 Ohme Road.
The Washington state Department of Natural Resources on Thursday announced a shutdown of all logging and industrial operations in the woods to avoid accidental starting of fires. The shutdown covers portions of Douglas, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat counties.
Wenatchee Complex updates
KING 5's Glenn Farley and Lindsay Chamberlain compiled this report.