Updated 8:30 a.m. Thursday:
The Evans Canyon fire north of Naches in Yakima County has grown to an estimated 52,000 acres, or 81 square miles, officials said.
The size estimate was based on infrared mapping from a flyover Wednesday, said fire information officer Roland Emetaz. The fire is not contained.
The fire started Monday afternoon in the Wenas Valley and grew quickly in high winds. Five homes have been destroyed and 900 residences are covered by evacuation orders in the area north of Selah and Naches.
Highway through the Yakima River Canyon is closed. People are advised to use Interstate 82. The closure is from milepost 3, six miles north of Yakima, to milepost 24, five miles south of Ellensburg.
A total of 443 people are fighting the fire Thursday The effort includes nine hand crews, 49 engines, nine bulldozers, seven water tenders and eight helicopters.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
People may see dark smoke columns as firefighters conduct burnout operations, Emetaz said. Burnouts are controlled fires to get rid of fuel and slow the fire’s advance.
Officials ask everyone to stay out of the fire area and follow evacuation orders.
Emetaz said while fire crews appreciate people’s donations, he said they cannot accept items because of COVID restrictions. He said they have plenty of water and food.
One way to support fire crews is to put up signs in yards thanking firefighters, he suggested.
Updated 9 p.m. Wednesday:
The Evans Canyon fire, which had destroyed five homes and grown to nearly 35,000 acres, was still uncontained as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Evacuations in the area, which began Tuesday, spread to include 900 homes by midday Wednesday, with the Red Cross helping evacuees find shelter in local hotels.
The fire, which began around 2:30 p.m. Monday about 8 miles north of Naches, had grown to 30,000 acres by 7 a.m. Wednesday, racing through the Wenas Valley southeast toward Selah and crossing the Yakima-Kittitas county line.
The destruction of the five primary residences represents “the greatest loss of property to fire in Yakima County in nearly five years,” according to emergency officials.
Level 3 — go now — evacuation orders are in place for all homes north of Wenas Lake, west of Longmire Lane and north of Naches Wenas Road in Selah, and north to the Kittitas County line. Level 3 evacuations also extend south to Wenas Creek and east of Sheep Company Road to the Yakima River. A Level 2 — be prepared to go — evacuation order is effect in the Yakima Canyon, which has been closed for recreational activities.
More than 60 families have been housed by the Red Cross at two Yakima-area hotels, said Michele Roth, executive director of the Red Cross for Central and Southeastern Washington. The organization can’t use large, open-layout shelters because of the pandemic, she said. It also has not set up a physical emergency response location, but it has established a 24-hour emergency phone line at 509-594-0016.
“Anybody who has been displaced by this fire can call that number,” Roth said. “That phone is manned 24 hours.”
More help coming
By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, high winds and the day’s heat had increased the fire’s size to 34,775 acres, or 54 square miles, incident team spokesman Roland Emetaz said. At that point it was still 0% contained, he said, with 437 personnel working the fire. That included nine hand crews, 10 bulldozers, seven water tenders, nine helicopters and 52 fire engines.
“That’s a huge number,” Emetaz said of the fire engines.
The crews are focused on protecting private structures and other valuable assets such as cattle, rangeland, agricultural and recreational areas.
They faced challenges with wind throughout the day Wednesday and expect that to continue Thursday with gusts up to 35 mph in the forecast. Those conditions limit firefighting options, fire operations chief Aaron Rowe said Wednesday at a 2 p.m. news conference. Firefighters generally try to reduce risk of injury by attacking the fire from the back and flanking around it as it spreads rapidly through grasses and brush, he said.
“Wind provides an added caution to when the firefighters are there because we can’t really get around in the front of it, basically,” he said. “It’s just going to have an added effect on how we can effectively control the fire.”
More help is on the way. Northwest team 12 Incident Commander Bob Shindelar said the arrival of additional resources over the next few days could double the number of people working on the fire. Fires raging throughout the West could limit the help available for the Evans Canyon Fire. But Shindelar said it should elevate in priority for the Northwest region on Thursday, which should lead to more resources.
Stay out of fire area
Shindelar urged people to follow local orders to evacuate and stay out of the fire area, noting vehicles trying to drive toward the fire create hazards for firefighters.
Yakima County Emergency Management Director Tony Miller said the Yakima County Sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officials throughout the state arrived to create barricades and close down roads.
Miller also apologized for some glitches in the Wireless Emergency Alert System, a new tool to replace Alert Yakima. Many Yakima County residents erroneously received an evacuation message on their mobile phones late Tuesday night.
“We’re working through those issues with the agencies that run those,” Miller said. “Sorry for the inconvenience for anybody that got that, but we’d rather get more alerts out than not enough to make sure everybody got out of the danger of the fire.”
Space at State Fair Park
State Fair Park in Yakima has opened its RV parking for those displaced and has stable space for animals. Those who need it can enter at Gate 5 near the corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and Fair Avenue. It is free to evacuees and open to people and all kinds of animals, Kramer said.
“If we run out of space, we won’t turn anyone away,” she said. “We’ll tie them up to a tree or to a fence post, and I’ve always had that philosophy. We don’t care if they’re four-legged, they’re feathers, even if they slither we’ll take their animals because I can’t imagine being in the perils of a fire. And we’re so fortunate that we have these assets and we can respond to the community.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds midday Tuesday to help with the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.