Fire officials near Wenatchee — where a wildfire has burned 30 homes — fear Fourth of July fireworks will spark other blazes in dry conditions.
WENATCHEE — The temperature on Tuesday afternoon reached 98 degrees, although the AccuWeather “RealFeel” had it pegged at 101.
In any case, Todd Light, 47, firefighter, is drinking another Gatorade. Orange flavor this time.
“I’ll probably drink 15 bottles of water, eight to 10 bottles of Gatorade,” he says.
Light is wearing a Nomex flame-resistant shirt and pants, offering fire protection. Says Light, “But it’s horrible, it’s hot.”
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The sun was beating down on the Broadview subdivision, where two dozen homes had burned to the ground Sunday as the Sleepy Hollow fire roared to life and scorched nearly 4,950 acres on the outskirts of town.
On Tuesday, crews were mopping up and looking for small pockets of fire.
Light is captain of the Duvall Fire Department. He’s also part of the state’s bureaucratically named interagency Incident Management Team 2.
Truth be told, Light acknowledges, he likes the action. “You gotta be a little of an adrenaline junkie,” he says.
The danger has lessened considerably, say fire officials. Tuesday morning, some 4,000 homes were at Level 2, “be ready” to evacuate. By Tuesday night, they were at Level 1, be “alert.” Officials also raised the containment level from 10 percent to 47 percent, which is where it stayed through Wednesday morning.
Chelan County Assessor Deana Walter on Tuesday morning said her office counted 30 homes burned in the areas of Broadview, Valley Vue, Horse Lake and North Road, The Wenatchee World reported. Many more were damaged by fire, but a total wasn’t yet available, she said.
Fire officials also said four businesses were damaged or destroyed.
Authorities said they still don’t know what caused the Sleepy Hollow fire.
Fire officials are dreading the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Fireworks are legal in Wenatchee, which leaves one of the region’s top firefighters concerned.
“The concern right now is any kind of ignition in these conditions,” said Chelan County Fire District 1 Chief Mike Burnett. “The city of Wenatchee tried to take action to ban fireworks and the City Council decided not to do that.”
County officials on Tuesday night prohibited fireworks and open burning in all unincorporated areas, as well as operating a motor vehicle offroad. Violation would be a misdemeanor.
Burnett, speaking during a news conference Tuesday morning, said crews are “poised for the next one coming, because we know it’s going to happen.”
This week, unincorporated Douglas County imposed an emergency ban on all fireworks; the ban does not include the city of East Wenatchee.
The fire struck suddenly and moved fast through dry grasses and brush, driven by evening winds and high temperatures that are creating similar tinderbox conditions throughout the state, particularly on the parched east side of the Cascade Mountains, which is struggling with drought.
Light was at home when the call came in at around 9 p.m. Sunday. He lives in Monroe, and soon was driving his Dodge pickup across Stevens Pass.
He got to the fire headquarters here at around midnight and was told to be ready to work the next morning. There would eventually be 247 firefighting personnel assigned to the Sleepy Hollow fire.
No motels for these guys.
Light brought his own sleeping bag and his own MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat, a military staple), enough food to last 24 hours. He opted for a sandwich at a local grocery.
He was told to crash at Eastmont Junior High School in East Wenatchee. He could have slept in the air-conditioned gym.
No thanks, Light decided. “Not with 50 dudes wandering in and out. It was a beautiful, nice evening.” He slept outside.
The fire-management teams have worked their assignments out to a fine detail — at least, as much detail as you can have with fires that switch in a second’s notice with the wind.
Light was briefed and then assigned to help direct firefighting in Wenatchee proper, where embers carried by wind had set fire in the warehouse district, including a recycling plant. Crews are still dealing with the smoldering buildings and hazardous chemicals stored there.
On Monday, Light put in 19 hours. The incident teams have mandated rest periods. After 8½ hours off, and a shower, he was back at work.
On Tuesday, he was at the affluent Broadview subdivision, where embers were still burning.
Light has been fighting fires all his adult life, beginning at age 17 as a volunteer with the Duvall Fire Department. He never left.
Light was there as homeowners returned to their burned-down homes.
“You know, there’s not much we can do. All you can say is, ‘Do you need anything?’ ” he says. “They thank us.”