Firefighters made significant progress on the Evans Creek Fire in Central Washington over the weekend, bringing containment to 40% as of Sunday afternoon.
The fire is 75,817 acres, or 118 square miles. It started a week ago, and is burning between Naches and Ellensburg.
Fire crews have been preparing for high winds to arrive Sunday night and continue through Monday. Gusts could hit 30 mph in the hills, but temperatures will drop to around 70 degrees, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Tobin.
A red-flag fire warning is in effect from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday for much of the region.
Winds are shifting to the east, which should be favorable, incident managers said. Chances are dwindling that flames west of the Yakima River can jump across, and the hillsides in the east portion of the fire were already scorched.
However, they are on the lookout for unburnt “islands” of brush to flare up, causing some risk that embers blow and spread fires.
“If we let these things continue to burn and extinguish themselves, we’ll be better off later,” said Jeff Dimke, incident commander, in an online community briefing Sunday. by the Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team.
A total 981 personnel are on the ground Sunday, with 20 hand crews, 127 engines, 13 bulldozers, two skidgines, 21 water tenders, six helicopters and two airplanes. A skidgine is a hybrid truck with a bulldozer in front and water sprayer in the rear.
Most of the southern portion of the fire around North Wenas Road is now secured, and it isn’t threatening the towns of Naches and Selah, officials said.
Evacuation notices are unchanged. For updates, check the Yakima Valley Emergency Management and Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office Facebook pages.
Crews are battling a double-edged sword in containing the blaze that’s blackened ridges towering over Naches, the Wenas Valley and ridges south of Ellensburg.
They’ve carved lines to keep the blaze from moving farther east and spilling over the Yakima River, where the river’s canyon is steep and difficult to navigate.
On the west end, crews are working to secure strong fire lines to keep the blaze out of the State Route 410 area, where campers and outdoor enthusiasts abound.
Highway 812, along the Yakima River Canyon, remains closed at least through Monday. Firefighters are driving through the area, have set some preemptive fires on hillsides, and hope to avoid risking lives to evacuate anybody from recreation areas, Dimke said.
Later in the week, temperatures will soar back into the 90s in the canyons, and humidity could drop to below 10%, officials warned. However, they expect to contain more of the fire, and mop-up large areas by then.
Throughout the Yakima Valley, signs along interstates and highways and near camping areas remind people of a ban on all outdoor burning, including campfires.
There’s also a ban on outdoor target practice. People also need to be careful not to drag trailer chains, which could spark and cause fires.
Parts of North Wenas Road, Sheep Company Road and Naches Wenas Road and Longmire Road are closed. Highway 821 (Yakima Canyon Highway), BBQ Flats and Wenas recreation areas are closed.
The Yakima River and Yakima River Canyon campgrounds remain closed.
The cause is under investigation.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.