The fast-growing Red Apple fire burning north of Wenatchee grew to an estimated 9,000 acres Wednesday, threatening hundreds of homes, orchards and outbuildings, according to Chelan County and state fire officials.
A state of emergency was declared in Chelan County. This comes on top of a statewide emergency declared by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month in response to the “growing risk” of wildfires in the region.
An estimated 1,065 homes in the Sunnyslope area of Wenatchee were at Level 3 evacuation status, which alerted residents to leave immediately. Hundreds of more homes and structures spanning from the Red Apple Road area to the Sunnyslope area in Central Washington were under an evacuation level ranging from 1 to 3 on Wednesday, according to Annie Schmidt, a spokesperson for the Chelan County Fire District in Leavenworth.
Level 2 alerts residents to prepare to leave, while Level 1 is a fire alert. Employers have the discretion whether to evacuate workers when their area reaches a Level 2, Schmidt said.
State resources mobilized Tuesday after the fire began shortly after 7 p.m. The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday evening that officials executed a search warrant at a residence “believed to be the origin of the fire.” No further details about the investigation were immediately available.
About 200 personnel from several state and local agencies worked Wednesday to contain the fire with the use of seven aircraft and helicopters, according to Schmidt.
“We’re getting workers rotated out. Many of them, in fact, worked overnight,” she said.
Throughout the state, firefighters are battling more than 900 blazes that have burned through at least 140,000 acres, forced evacuations and shut down highways as dry conditions continue this week.
Inslee — who has declared a drought emergency for nearly all of Washington Wednesday — deployed the National Guard to help. More than 70,000 gallons of water were dropped on Eastern Washington fires in Wednesday morning, according to the Guard.
More than 300 firefighters and public-safety officials are battling blazes in Okanogan County, known as the Cedar Creek, Varden and Delancy fires, according to Pam Sichting, information officer with Northwest Incident Management Team 8, which is managing the three fires.
Sichting said a cold front is expected to move through the area overnight, bringing gusty winds that will likely merge the Cedar Creek and Varden blazes at some point.
“With fires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest, we are getting maxed out on our availability of resources to where were going to be competing with other fires for additional resources,” Sichting said Wednesday evening.
Black and white plumes filled the sky in region as crews battled the flames, up against wind and hot temperatures.
As soon as Marcelina Farfan walked into the breakroom at Tree Top, a fruit-processing plant in Wenatchee, she said she noticed a strong smell.
When she realized it wasn’t coming from inside, she walked over to a window and noticed clouds of smoke moving over the mountain across the road.
“I felt my throat tighten a bit and my eyes began to burn,” she said. “We didn’t know for sure if it was because of the smoke, but we knew the air was coming inside because of the ventilators we have.”
Farfan and other employees were evacuated because of the heat and strong smell by the afternoon, she said. Helicopters carrying water later moved into the area.
Although health was at the forefront of her mind, the stark reality of needing to go back to work to pay her bills remained, she said.
“I’m sitting by the phone waiting to see if we’ll be called in for work tomorrow, we still don’t know,” Farfan said.
Odilia Lopez was watering her garden Tuesday evening when she noticed dark gray smoke topping orange flames on one of the mountains surrounding the Wenatchee Valley.
“I was thinking ‘Oh lord we’ve got another fire already,’ and my heart immediately went out to the people that I knew were close to it,” Lopez said.
Lopez said she’s worried that the air quality will significantly decrease as it has in previous years. Several years ago, ash lightly fell as fires in surrounding areas raged.
“It’s hard to live with the smoke, your eyes become sensitive, and then it becomes hard to breathe especially if you have underlying health conditions like asthma,” she said.
A Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Seventh-day Adventist church at Fifth Street and Western Avenue in Wenatchee. A total of 20 people visited the site Wednesday, according to Betsy Robertson, a spokesperson for the Red Cross Northwest Region.
She said eight stayed overnight Tuesday while six people camped outside.
Chelan County Emergency Management is posting updates on the wildfire, including evacuation alerts, on its Facebook page.
Highway 97A, just north of Wenatchee, is closed for fire response between Ohme Gardens Road and Swakane Canyon Road from mileposts 201 to 205, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. There is no estimated time for reopening.
Staff reporter Amanda Zhou contributed to this article.