More than 580 firefighters and support staff have been working to stop a wildfire in steep terrain north of Lyle, in the Columbia River Gorge. The fire grew from 1,200 to 1,690 acres late Friday afternoon while being pushed north by gusty winds from the southwest.
“This is a really serious fire with the number of residences threatened and the weather, and the topography in very steep canyons and rock cliffs,” Nick Mickel, a fire spokesman, said late Friday evening. “It has a lot of potential to do a lot of damage, if and when the weather changes and it warms up, the wind blows harder and temperatures rise.”
As of 8:30 p.m. Friday, no one had been reported injured. A barn and two outbuildings had burned, but no homes.
Officials said 140 homes were threatened. They had placed 40 of those on Level 3 evacuations, asking the residents to leave immediately.
“The issue becomes, if you decide to stay, you stay at your own risk,” Mickel said.
The fire was only 5 percent contained, and Mickel said crews likely will be working to contain it for several more days.
Officials said a downed power line sparked two fires at about noon Thursday. The two blazes grew together, aided by 20 mph winds with gusts as high as 50 mph.
State Highway 14 remained open to traffic Friday night, as it has since the fire was reported about noon on Thursday.
The blaze remained on the west side of the Klickitat River on Friday evening and had not crossed the river. The fire boundaries were the river and Canyon Road to the west. It’s been dubbed the Highway 8 Complex Fire, after an old highway north of state Highway 14.
Mickel said the fire was moving northeast, pushed by gusts from the southwest, but still was far from the town of Klickitat.
“We’re trying to hit it as hard as we can, with the resources we have, to check the fire’s spread,” Mickel said.
The resources include:
o Seven 20-person crews and eight 10-person inmate crews from Larch Corrections Center, Naselle Youth Camp and the Cedar Creek Corrections Center.
o Five strike teams, each with 11 or 12 firefighters using four fire engines and a water tender. They have come from several counties including Clark, Yakima, Kittitas, Thurston, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Mason and Cowlitz.
o Two heavy-lift and two medium-capacity helicopters.
o A fixed-wing plane dropping fire retardant on the north side of the blaze, to stop if from spreading in that direction.
The fire’s size was estimated at 1,000 acres Thursday evening, 1,200 acres Friday morning and 1,690 acres Friday evening, officials said.
The evacuations were ordered for homes along Highway 142 from mileposts 1 to 8. That highway, leading northeast from Lyle, has been closed. Also placed on evacuation status were homes on Canyon Road, Fisher Hill Road and Johnson Road, Mickel said.
The Lions Club Community Center in Lyle has been offered as shelter those who left their homes. It was staffed by local Red Cross volunteers who had a trailer with 100 cots and 200 blankets at the scene.
Volunteers provided information about the fire, water, snacks and emotional comfort but, as of 8:30 p.m. Friday, no one had elected to stay the night at the shelter, a Red Cross official said.
Resources from throughout Washington were being sent to the fire, per a request by Klickitat County Fire District 14, according to bulletin issued by Deputy State Fire Marshal Karen Jones.
Those working at the scene included the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, along with firefighters from Rural District 7, Dallesport, Lyle, Appleton, Bingen, White Salmon, Goldendale, High Prairie, Centerville and Hood River, Ore.