Firefighters making progress on 80,000-acre wildfire

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KITTITAS COUNTY — For the first time since the big Colockum Tarps wildfire in central Washington started, firefighters are making solid progress.

fire3The fire still covers more than 80,000 acres, but as of late Friday afternoon, it had grown very little in the past 24 hours.

The best news is that families who were forced from their homes by the fire in Chelan County can now go home, but scores of others near Kittitas County are still locked out of their neighborhoods.

“I heard the fire went down through the park creek and up the other side and as far as I’ve heard, no cabins have burned yet,” Henry Bacon said.

Bacon is itching to get a look for himself to see if he still has a cabin down near the fire lines near Kittitas.

Sheriff’s deputies are blocking the roads, so all Bacon can do is wait and wonder.

“I went up to see if I could take a look at my cabin and I haven’t been able to get through,” Bacon said.

The Colockum Tarps Fire has been burning for nearly a week and more than 800 firefighters are battling steep terrain to try and get a line around the blaze. Finally, on Friday, the weather seemed to be on their side.

“We have about six miles of line that we’re continuing to work on,” incident manager Peter Frenzen said. “We’ve got gaps in it, we’ve got areas in it that we still need to strengthen so there’s a lot of good work (that) needs to be done and remains to be done.”

One reason for that progress is a converted DC-10 airliner. For most of the week it’s been dropping 11,000-gallon payloads of water and fire retardant from low altitude. The aircraft was grounded Friday due to the rains, but it could be called into action at any moment.

“We got up here about a week ago. We were on it one day for about five trips and now that the weather changing like it is, we don’t know what’s going on the rest of the day,” said Jack Maxey, pilot of the DC-10. “We could be here or we could be moved to another part of the country.”

So while fire crews continue their fight, property owners like Bacon hope their homes are still standing.

And as long as the weather cooperates, officials are optimistic they might finally get a handle on the fire.

An encampment of 300-400 firefighters will stay the night at Kittitas Elementary School.

There was one aircraft flying over the fire lines on Friday and another searching for signs of new fires from Thursday’s lightning strikes.  Unfortunately, more lightning is in the forecast.

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