Wildfires force highway closure

More central Wash. residents evacuated

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YAKIMA — Thick smoke from central Washington wildfires kept residents indoors in some communities Wednesday and forced schools to relocate weekend sporting events, as the advancing flames prompted more evacuations and the closure of a major highway.

Thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires that were sparked by lightning earlier this month up and down the east slope of the Cascades. Some of the blazes are small and in remote areas, but hundreds of residents have been evacuated or warned to be ready to flee near fire large fire complexes burning in the region.

In Kittitas County, authorities ordered new evacuations northwest of Ellensburg due to a handful of fires that had grown to cover 11,590 acres, or 18 square miles, on Wednesday. In the Wenatchee area, nearly 2,000 firefighters were working to contain more than a dozen fires, the largest of which had blackened nearly 14,000 acres, or about 22 square miles.

The wildfires burned close to U.S. Highway 97 on Wednesday, prompting the Washington state Department of Transportation to close a 27-mile stretch of the highway on Blewett Pass. The agency did not say when the highway might reopen.

Dozens of other roads and trails were closed around the region.

Overall, fires were burning across some 88 square miles of dry forest, brush and grass in a part of the state that hasn't seen significant rainfall in weeks.

State officials again warned of hazardous air quality in Ellensburg and Wenatchee from thick smoke, advising residents to remain indoors, limit physical activity and keep doors and windows open. They also noted that conditions are not expected to improve for several days.

The thick smoke forced Central Washington University to move 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.