Residents wait out Central Washington wildfire

Evacuees still unable to return; blaze about 25 percent contained

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YAKIMA — Hundreds of people forced to flee a large central Washington fire waited for word Thursday on when they might be able to return, while firefighters in rural Idaho protected two threatened towns.

The Taylor Bridge Fire about 75 miles east of Seattle has burned across an estimated 22,000 acres, roughly 35 square miles, of diverse terrain, ranging from dry grasses to sagebrush and thick timber.

The blaze was 25 percent contained Thursday morning, and fire management officers were working with local authorities to determine if some of the hundreds of evacuated residents could return home.

The fire started Monday at a bridge construction site. Officials have said at least 70 homes have burned. About 840 firefighters have been assigned to the fire.

Fire spokesman Mark Grassel said crews were strengthening lines at the fire's stubborn north flank, where it has burned into thick stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.

Laurie Plut said she doesn't feel out of danger yet. The fire has been right at the timber line for two days, just beyond the wood cabin she and her husband have been building over the past 12 years in a collection of 40 lots, all but five of them vacation cabins.

"We're still worried. It's extremely frustrating, but the firefighters have been working hard," she said by telephone. "And we have to love them."

Weather aids Idaho efforts

In Idaho, crews fighting 12 big fires hoped to take advantage of a brief break from extreme heat and strong winds to protect threatened homes and build lines around fire perimeters.

The advance of the Trinity Ridge Fire toward the small communities of Pine and Featherville stalled Wednesday, giving residents more time to protect their homes and cabins and prepare for a possible evacuation. The blaze started two weeks ago in the Boise National Forest and has scorched more than 108 square miles.

"Yesterday was more of a defensive mode for fire crews with the focus on protecting structures," said Dave Olson, spokesman for the Boise National Forest. "Today, there will be more opportunities to be more aggressive."

In eastern Idaho, growth of the Mustang Complex Fire slowed after days of rapid growth as flames quickly burned stands of timber killed by bark beetle infestation. The fires there have now burned more than 114 square miles and are moving northeast to within three miles of the Montana border.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter issued a disaster declaration Wednesday because of fire damage. The order clears the way for the Idaho National Guard to get involved in firefighting activities.

Officials said both fires are likely to continue burning until the fall, when rain, snow or cooler temperatures move in to shut things down.