Hundreds of firefighters are working to stall the spread of wildfires east of the Cascade Mountains.
Fires in grasslands east of the Cascades continued to expand Wednesday, forcing evacuations as firefighters faced another day of difficult weather.
Near Wenatchee, three separate fires grew to encompass more than 23,000 acres.
About 360 firefighters started the day to try to slow their spread, said Holly Krake, information officer for the team managing the Spartan, Sutherland Canyon and Straight Hollow fires.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued level-three evacuations — meaning people need to leave immediately — for an area with about 30 structures near the Sutherland Canyon Fire, she said.
“We have set up shelters both for folks and their companions with the Humane Society and a local church,” Krake said.
Meanwhile, about 50 miles southwest of Wenatchee, a level-three evacuation was issued for about 10 homes near Yakima, said Lonnie Click, the incident manager of the South Wenas Fire. He said firefighters were protecting several structures from flames on the fire’s north flank. People in an estimated 80 homes were on notice to be ready to leave should the fire shift direction.
The South Wenas Fire began about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Click said. By Wednesday afternoon, the fire had consumed 2,800 acres and was 30 percent contained, said Click.
- Clear any buildup of pine needles, leaves and other flammable materials from your roof, gutters, porch and under your deck.
- Trim larger trees’ limbs to heights of at least 10 feet. Make sure there is about 5 feet between branches of other large trees.
- Weed-whack or mow long grass around your home. Ideally, you want to have at least 30 feet of short, watered lawn around your home.
- Move wood piles more than 30 feet from your home.
- Remove propane tanks from within 30 feet of your home. In a wildfire, they can vent and shoot flame vertically.
- Install visible house numbers on your home, driveway and street.
- Repair shingles, tiles and other roofing material.
- Use metal mesh (1/8-inch mesh is good) to prevent embers from landing in vents and eaves and under decks.
- Know your family’s emergency plan if a wildfire comes quickly.
“It’s blowing, blowing, wind and dry,” he said of weather conditions Wednesday evening. “We have not lost any structures and we haven’t had any injuries.”
The fire’s cause is being investigated, but there wasn’t lightning in the area Tuesday, Click said.
Krake and Click said firefighters have been dealing with heavy grasses, grown thick and high with bountiful spring moisture.
“There’s a lot of fuel out there and it’s ready to burn,” Click said. “There’s a lot more energy when we have a lot more grass.”
He said grasses were as high as 4 feet. Flames running through them reached as high as 12 feet Tuesday, he said.
The fire was burning hotter than what firefighters usually encounter, he said, though he “didn’t get in there quite close enough to measure the temperature.”
Firefighters north of the Yakima area had tougher weather conditions, and the National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning near Wenatchee. Wind gusts were expected to reach as high as 30 mph.
“We’re experiencing multiple days now of dry, hot, breezy conditions,” Krake said in dealing with the fires that began burning Monday. On Tuesday, “folks experienced sustained winds in the 20 mph range … as well as erratic winds moving up and down the canyon and wind shifts throughout the day.”
The fires have been “running,” essentially spreading quickly, and “spotting,” or throwing embers downwind and starting new fires ahead of their paths.
Krake said a type-2 incident-management team has been ordered for the fires near Wenatchee, which will give “more resources to support the boots out there on the ground” such as planning and mapping.
“That indicates expanded growth and complexity of the fires,” she said.
Krake said firefighters were able to conduct burnout operations and build enough of a fireline to achieve 30 percent containment for the Spartan Fire. About 80 structures were threatened and residents nearby were warned to be ready to evacuate.
The Sutherland Canyon was 10 percent contained and the Straight Hollow fires was 20 percent contained by Wednesday afternoon. The Straight Hollow Fire is burning through important sage grouse habitat, Krake said.
The forecast ahead is a mixed bag for firefighters. Ron Miller, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the wind is expected to let up Thursday, but temperatures will climb.
“We’re going to start creeping back up in the low to mid-90s in Wenatchee by the weekend,” he said, noting that strong gusts were expected back by Monday.
A wind shift is also expected Thursday.
“Right now, the smoke is being directed to the Moses Lake area from the fires near Wenatchee. If the winds reverse tomorrow, the smoke could go toward Wenatchee,” Miller said.
Air quality in Moses Lake was considered “unhealthy” Wednesday morning, according to air-quality monitoring data published by the Washington Department of Ecology.