Extent of fire damage near Cle Elum unknown



Updated: August 15, 2012, 9:16 PM

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Local angle

With a fast-moving wildfire burning in Central Washington, the current fire danger rating is high in the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Hood national forests, as well as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. A campfire ban is in effect and chain saw use is prohibited after 1 p.m.

In a news bulletin, the U.S. Forest Service reminded people visiting these forests to keep campfire safety in mind year-round.

Visitors should follow local campfire regulations, keep fires small, only use wood that fits inside the fire ring and never leave a campfire unattended. It is illegal and toxic to burn trash, so pack out whatever you pack in, the bulletin said.

CLE ELUM — Hundreds of firefighters employed every weapon they had Wednesday to battle a stubborn wildfire east of the Cascades that has destroyed dozens of homes across roughly 35 square miles.

Helicopters made regular drops of water on hot spots. Firefighters dug lines with hand tools and bulldozers and cleared wood piles and dry brush from around homes to protect them.

And at the fire’s troublesome north flank, where massive plumes of smoke soared skyward, heavy tankers repeatedly dropped retardant on thick stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir — some of the heavy timber that fire crews had hoped to keep the Taylor Bridge Fire from reaching.

New evacuations were ordered Wednesday evening on the north flank, fire spokesman Glenn Kohler said. He didn’t know how many people were affected. Hundreds have already left their homes.

Retirees Dave and Jan Stambaugh eyed the massive fire behind their home warily Wednesday, as they loaded treasured artwork into their cars.

The home sits on a rural lane in a meadow just below flaming forested hills.

“It’s one thing about the house, but my yard, oh my garden,” Jan Stambaugh said, pointing to her lush new landscaping with ponds, shrubs, stepping stones and a putting green. “Do you think it’ll make it?”

Minutes later, sheriff’s deputies began knocking on doors to notify residents it was time to flee.

In better news, fire management officials said the fire is now 25 percent contained, up from 10 percent.

Since Monday, the fire has burned across more than 22,000 acres of tinder-dry grass, sagebrush and timber in rural areas east of Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

More than 800 people are working to suppress the blaze. Kohler said one firefighter suffered a minor facial burn.

Authorities say at least 60 homes have been destroyed, but conditions are still too dangerous to come up with an exact count.

The acreage estimate was down from earlier estimates of about 28,000 acres, due to more accurate mapping, according to incident commander Rex Reed. Reed also said conditions were still too dangerous to get an exact count on the number of homes burned, but confirmed at least 60 homes had been destroyed.

The Kittitas County sheriff also has said that at least 10 additional homes had burned in a subdivision on the southeast corner of the blaze.

“Frankly it’s not safe yet to get to the interior of the fire,” Reed said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for Kittitas and Yakima counties in response to the blaze. That provided air support from the Washington National Guard.

Fire crews also were keeping a wary eye on weather conditions later in the week, with hotter, drier conditions expected today and Friday.

Meanwhile, a brush fire not far from Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington has burned nearly 8 square miles and an old barn outside of Elmer City.

Cathy Moses of the Colville Tribe said the fire was threatening nine homes in the town near Grand Coulee Dam.

Clark County provides personnel, charity

Clark County is responding to Central Washington wildfires with personnel and charity.

Several local fire agencies sent firefighters and equipment to battle the blaze near Cle Elum on Monday.

Chief Gordon Brooks with Clark County Fire District 10 said his organization sent four firefighters, a brush rig and water tender to help with the fires. The crew met with other firefighters from Clark County Fire & Rescue, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department and fire districts 3 and 13.

Brooks said sending volunteers won’t affect his department’s day-to-day operations much because it is a volunteer agency. Other people will pick up the slack, he said.

Inmate crews from Larch Corrections Center in east Clark County have also been deployed to the fires.

In addition, Vancouver-based humanitarian organization Giving Hope on Wednesday organized drop-off locations to help benefit victims of the Taylor Bridge Fire. School supplies, backpacks, flashlights, hygiene products, portable food and cash can be left at the following locations:

• Engedi Café, 1400 N.E. 136th Ave.

• Additional Self Storage, 4901 N.E. Minnehaha St.

• Additional Self Storage, 16300 N.E 15th St.

• Additional Self Storage, 9006 N.E. 117th Ave.

• Additional Self Storage, 11000 N.E. Burton Road.

• Additional Self Storage, 505 S.E. Hearthwood Blvd.

• Additional Self Storage, 11300 N.E. 28th St.