Many of the 700 firefighters stationed there Tuesday were out battling the Jolly Mountain Fire, which threatens more than 900 structures near the lake. Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a statewide emergency.
CLE ELUM, Kittitas County — Tents on the dusty ranch stretched so far, and the smoke hung so thick, that you could hardly see from one side of camp to the other.
Most of the tents rippled in the wind, empty. That’s because many of the 700 firefighters stationed there Tuesday were out battling the Jolly Mountain Fire, which threatens more than 900 structures near Lake Cle Elum.
The rest of the fire crews were drawn to the bustling heart of the tent city, which was hosting Gov. Jay Inslee, his entourage and a horde of news reporters.
The governor, after listening to a briefing from fire officials, bemoaned unhealthy, beetle-chewed forests spewing smoke and ash all the way to Seattle. Then, he turned his attention to President Donald Trump.
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“We ought to have the president, who denies climate change, out here to smell the smoke and see the ash,” Inslee said.
With wildfires burning throughout the state and dangerous weather looming, Inslee on Sunday declared a statewide emergency.
And in the field Tuesday afternoon, he pledged resources and state support to fire commanders trying to quell the fire advancing toward homes alongside Lake Cle Ellum and the nearby communities of Ronald, Roslyn and Cle Elum.
The fire Tuesday swelled to about 23,000 acres in size and approached within a few hundred feet of some homes near the lake.
Officials this weekend went door-to-door in Roslyn telling folks to be ready to leave at any moment (a Level 2 evacuation, as officials call it), while some communities near the lake were under Level 3 evacuation, meaning leave immediately. Meanwhile, firefighters dug a two-mile containment line to form a barrier between the town and the advancing blaze.
The communities are on edge now.
“It’s certainly spooky,” said Roslyn Mayor Brent Hals. “We’ve never been so close.”
The worst part has been the uncertainty, Hals said. And the waiting.
“Are we leaving, are we not leaving? Everyone wants to do something to help, to prepare,” he said.
They had hoped for a different kind of Labor Day.
Roslyn, a popular stop for campers and hikers trekking in the Teanaway Range, canceled its Sunday farmers market, its annual Coal Miner’s festival and a parade. The roads needed to stay open, in case evacuation was necessary.
For many businesses, it was the biggest weekend of the year, said Derek Gruber, a city councilman who owns a bar and restaurant in town.
“In summer, you get back in the black,” he explained.
Fire commanders have been reluctant to attack the fire’s troublesome west flank, which is burning downhill toward Lake Cle Elum.
Incident commander Chris Schulte said the hillside is so steep that snags could roll downhill, start fires at the bottom and leave firefighters stranded between two flanks of flame.
So far, firefighters charged with protecting structures have been able to hold the blaze at bay.
“There’s people here to meet it, and they’re stopping it,” Schulte said. “Increase the wind speed, change the direction, and it could change the game.”