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Washington wildfires threaten homes, livelihoods

As many as three wildfires burned across Washington state in the summer of 2013.

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Local News
08/01/13

Colockum Tarps wildfire now 25% contained

KITTITAS COUNTY — It is now day 6 for firefighters battling the massive wildfire in central Washington near Ellensberg.

aug1fireThe Colockum Tarps fire is now at a whopping 80,000 acres and only 25% contained.

Some of the evacuations issued Wednesday have been lifted, but there are still many people locked out of their homes, just waiting to hear the worst.

“We’ve just been out driving around, trying to get some information and hoping this weather will cooperate,” said Greg Tudor.

Kittitas County sheriff’s deputies evacuated Tudor and his family from their home Wednesday when the threat of wildfire was too close for comfort.

The area around Tudor’s home is surrounded by sage brush and timber, which is perfect fuel for the fire. Tudor grabbed what he could before abandoning his property.

“When I shut that door, it was like, you know, there’s nothing else I can do,” said Tudor. “This is in these guys’ hands. There’s over 700 guys up on the fire lines and mother nature if she’d cooperate a little bit, they’re going to get this thing done and I’ve got my faith in these boys.”

“Yesterday it did not look good and it was very intense, a lot of smoke,” said wildfire public information officer Jeff Sevigney. “Today’s looking much better. Mother nature’s got all the cards here, we’re waiting to see – so far she’s dealing us a good hand today,  but that can change at a moment’s notice.”

Fourteen aircraft also helped fight the fire from above. Nearly 30 cabins are in the direct path of the flames – and so far, firefighters have had good luck.

“Three outbuildings burned, so that’s unfortunate that we lost those outbuildings, but without primary residences affected, that’s definitely good news,” said Sevigney.

Puget Sound Energy shut down most of their windmill turbines near Ellensburg as a safety precaution. The company worried smoke and wind from the fire would damage them.

Meanwhile, Tudor and the other evacuees can do little but hope to return home soon.

“I can buy a new computer, I can buy a new telescope, whatever else I need I can buy that,” said Tudor. “But, pictures and memorabilia, I’ll call the insurance company if I have to.”

There was a public meeting Thursday night at the student union on the Central Washington University campus where officials were to answer questions from the public.

There’s also a chance for lightning storms Thursday night — and while the rain would help, the erratic winds caused by the storms won’t.

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — With a mandatory level-three evacuation order in place for her neighborhood, Linda Anderson is grabbing the things dearest to her and getting out of harm’s way.

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Smoke from the wildfire blackens the sky near the windmill farm near Wenatchee, Wash. (Photo: Kittitas County Emergency Operations)

She has experience with wildfires and evacuations she would rather not have.

“I’m scared. This is not the first fire we’ve been through, we went through three evacuations last year with the fires,” Anderson said.

It is now day five of the Colockum Tarps Wildfire, which had started in neighboring Chelan County.

As of Wednesday night, the fire had grown to more than 66,000 acres — 103 square miles. It is the largest wildfire in Washington state since 2006.

It is still on the move to the south and west; it is growing and moving farther into Kittitas County, where a state of emergency has been declared.

More than 400 firefighters are now working to stop this fire, including Rebecca Gremel’s husband.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking. Last year when he went up I didn’t hear from him for 24 hours and it got pretty nasty,” Gremel said.

For longtime residents, and everyone else for that matter, this fire is nerve-wracking and brings back bad memories of last year’s Taylor Bridge Wildfire.

“It does make me nervous. I don’t get too close to it like last year. Last year I got way too close and it moved real fast, in minutes it was on the ridge and then down to the road,” homeowner Cathy Hite said.

The evacuation orders in Kittitas County include 100 buildings, including 25 permanent homes and recreational properties, all, in the fire’s path. The sheriff’s office said 71 people were evacuated Wednesday, but others chose to stay behind.

Firefighters are working to cut firebreaks to stop the fire and protect homes and other infrastructure, like wind farms, transmission towers and gas lines.

“We’re putting all of our resources in to the south and west portions of the fire to prevent the spread in those directions as best we can,” fire Incident Commander Brian Gales said.

A public meeting is planned at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Central Washington University SURC ballroom in Ellensburg.

Representatives from the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center and the Washington Incident Management Team 4 will give a fire update and answer questions.

Plans are in motion to set up a secondary fire camp in Kittitas County.

KITTITAS — The massive fire in Chelan and Kittitas counties has forced even more evacuations as the flames head southwest toward Ellensburg.

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Nearly 25 families are being told to get out of the path of the fire, and officials are already shutting down roads to keep people from getting too close to the blaze.

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office said late Wednesday that 71 residents have evacuated, while some residents have opted to stay.  Officials said there about 100 structures in the evacuation area, including primary residences and recreational properties.

Linda Anderson and her granddaughter Ariel rushed to get their animals out of the fire’s path.

Her cats, dogs, and even chickens are all loaded up, ready to evacuate.

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office declared a level 3 evacuation early Wednesday morning, which forced at least 20 families to grab what they could and get out.

The evacuation is like déjà vu for Anderson.

“I’m scared. This is not the first fire we’ve been through. We went through three evacuations last year with the fires,” said Anderson.

Jeff Laukala raced up the ridge line to his cabin, where he’s trying to limit the fire danger to his mountain home by removing possible sources of fuel.

Laukala’s home is directly in the path of the wildfire. He hopes a higher power will protect his 20-acre property.

“I’m doing what I can do and, you know, leave it in the Lord’s hands,” said Laukala. “That’s all you can do.”

And even though Anderson has seen all of this before, she worries this time she’ll lose everything.

“It’s OK. We can start all over again,” said Anderson. “We work hard; we can do this, I know we can.”

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for those families that don’t have anywhere else to go.

It’s located at 1407 North B Street at the Mercer Creek Church in Ellensburg. There is also an emergency animal shelter located at the Kittitas Valley Event Center.

FireWENATCHEE, Wash. — The Colockum Tarps Fire continues its rampage in Kittitas County. forcing new evacuations of dozens in the fire’s path Wednesday.

Authorities say that 10 mph winds from the east pushed the fire further west. The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office began the evacuation of 75 new structures in harm’s way.

The Kittitas County Sheriff has ordered a Level 3 evacuation order for residents affected by the Colockum Tarps Fire. Kittitas County Sheriff’s deputies are working to notify and assist residents in the Upper Creek, Secret Canyon, Hill Top, upper sections of Little Caribou, Sheep Creek and Trail Creek of Level 3 evacuation order.

People needing shelter are asked to come to the sheriff’s office at 307 West Umptanum or call 509-925-8534. Residents that are sheltering with friends or family are asked to please provide contact information to the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center at 509-933-8305, so you can be kept updated with current information.

So far, the fire has consumed almost 60,000 acres and is only 8 percent contained. Crews are fearful about the weather danger in the coming days.

There will high winds, high temperatures and low humidity. There is also a strong chance for thunderstorms this week and ground lighting could spark new fires in the region.

MALAGA, Wash. — For the first time since the Colockum Tarps fire swept through this Chelan County area, the public was allowed Tuesday to enter the evacuation zone near the town of Malaga.

malaga

A view of the charred timber and earth around Malaga, Wash., from the wildfire.

It was more difficult for some than others.

“It looks like a bomb went off around my place. It`s really not a whole lot left. The main structure of the house is still standing. All our outbuildings, our horse barn, shops, everything is burned to the ground,” victim Greg Simmons said.

The damage is concentrated in a small neighborhood along Colockum Pass road, one house gone, then another, and another — while right next door firefighters were able to save a home.

Don Keeley is also among the lucky.

His house is also still standing and he wasn’t sure it would be.

“Very, very, very lucky because I’m 78 years old and to start over or something like that would be pretty hard,” Keeley said.

But the news is not all good for Keeley.

Not one, not two but three of his outhouses burned along with his RV and a refrigerated trailer.

Meanwhile the Colockum Tarps fire continues to push south and west into Kittitas County, where level-two and level-three evacuation orders have been issued and a state of emergency declared.

In addition to the 400 people already working on the fire, three hot shot crews arrived early Tuesday morning and went straight to work.

“You just have to take every day for what it is and do what we do and stay safe,” hot shot firefighter Thane Shetler said.

The goal is to contain the fire on the southwest corner, keeping it out of the tall trees and a small neighborhood.

The fast moving fire grew 20-thousand acres Tuesday alone and has now covered more than 52,000 acres.

All resources available are being brought to bear to contain this fast-moving fire before any more property or lives are lost.

“We have a DC-10 air tanker, two single-engine air tankers, four helicopters, seven hand crews and dozens of engines all working together to hold the fire,” Incident Commander Brian Gales said.

WENATCHEE — Flames from the Colockum Tarps wildfire are being pushed south and west by northeasterly winds and that’s moving the fire into some heavy timber in Kittitas County.

Colockum Tarp WildfireThat could spell more trouble from a blaze that drove neighbors in Chelan County from homes with only minutes to spare.

“I’m kind of in shock, really,” said Greg Simmons, who just returned to survey his burned-out property near Malaga, Wash.

The roadblock keeps gawkers out of the evacuated area and a Chelan County sheriff’s deputy checks the identification of homeowners trying to get back in and take stock of what’s been lost.

“It almost looks like a bomb went off around my place; it’s really not a whole lot left,” said Simmons. “The main structure of the house is still standing. All our outbuildings, our horse barn, shops, everything is burned to the ground.”

“The fire since has moved down past the Quilomene Ridge area; it goes down into this area,” Rick Isaccson with Chelan County Fire said.

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A DC-10 drops fire retardant Tuesday on the Colockum Tarps fire in Chelan County. (Photo: inciweb.nwcg.gov)

Isaccson added that firefighters are facing heat and swirling winds that make it nearly impossible to get a line around the fire as it pushes steadily into Kittitas County.

“Today it’s supposed to pick up,” Isaccson said. “We were looking at winds out of the northwest and the north at the beginning of the fire. Today it’s changed, coming out of the northeast, causing the fire to make more of a curve to run back towards Ellensburg. It’s quite away from Ellensburg, but it’s moving in that direction.”

The fire had grown to 52,000 acres as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Kittitas County commissioners declared an emergency on Tuesday afternoon.

Commissioners heard an update from the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday afternoon. The fire was described as “extremely active” as it continues to move south as well as upslope to the west. The resolution activates the county’s emergency plan.

Simmons and his neighbors in Chelan County are dealing with what it’s left behind.

“Don’t even know where to start really as far as, you know, how to rebuild and get everything the way it was,” said Simmons. “It’s unbelievable. It looks like the moon around there.”

Hot shot crews from Oregon have joined the fight.

Local News
07/30/13

Colockum Tarps Fire blazes on

FireWENATCHEE, Wash. — The Colockum Tarps fire continued to grow Tuesday, burning more than 40,000 acres and threatening dozens of homes.

The fire had burned 42,663 acres by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. However, fire officials said the fire calmed down Monday night due to cloud cover and high humidity, and fire officials made progress fighting the blaze. Firefighters continue to battle the blaze, digging fire lines and sending in hot shot crews. Dry trees and brush continue to fuel the fire. The fire was reported to be only 5 percent contained.

Three hundred firefighters are fighting the blaze that started Saturday and has burned three homes and a handful of outbuildings. Kittitas County expanded the Level 2 evacuation to include the area southwest of the fire and 60 homes have been evacuated in the vicinity of Colockum, Tarpiscan and Kingsbury roads. Some time on Tuesday fire officials will determine if the evacuation order can be lifted for some areas.

MALAGA, Wash. — Homeowners in the town of Malaga gathered in the fire station Monday night.

Colockum Tarp WildfireThey are upset. They are stressed out and they are scared.

The three-day-old Colockum Tarps wildfire is now more than 31,000 acres in size, and still growing, and only 5% contained.

“It was the largest fire that we’ve seen.  The fire was surrounding all the hillsides around us,” homeowner Charlie Anderson said.

The fire started early Saturday morning.

Fueled by dry underbrush and tall, dry trees, the fire spread quickly and became extremely unpredictable every time the wind changed directions.

When the fire is burning in the underbrush it is relatively easy to contain, but when it gets into the trees, into the timber, it can explode with great intensity in just a matter of minutes.

Firefighters from all over Washington have been battling the fire around the clock.

So far three homes and a handful of out buildings have been lost.

“We thought everything was great and then we find out at seven in the morning that the barn burned. It caught fire and it was just really fast, raging, moving,” homeowner Maria Agnew said.

Sixty homes have been evacuated and the fight is on to save them.

Firefighters have a plan in place to improve containment of the fire, if the weather cooperates. Unfortunately, more erratic winds were expected Tuesday. Thunderstorms may come in on Thursday, which could bring much-needed rain, but also more wind and possibly some lightning strikes.

Local News
07/29/13

Fire spreading: 25,000 acres burned south of Wenatchee

CHELAN COUNTY — The wildfire burning south of Wenatchee has grown to 25,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained.

wenatcheeMaria Agnew watched from her back deck as fast moving flames tore around her neighborhood and back up the ridge towards her home.

“I could feel the flames, I could feel the heat from across the road,” said Agnew. “And it was probably 250 yards away and we knew this wasn’t good.”

Agnew credits firefighters for digging in and saving many of the homes in her neighborhood, though three were lost.

“We’re really fortunate, everybody that didn’t burn is fortunate, because it happened so fast.”

But the wildfire is still moving, devouring several acres in just seconds, pushed by high winds and dry brush. Around 300 firefighters are battling it but they can’t get in front of it.

“When you have light to medium fuels and high winds, it’s just like stepping in front of a truck,” said Rick Issacson, with Chelan County Fire District. “It’s going to mow you over so you can’t put firefighters in front of that.”

The fire is now moving south, into Kittitas County, and people there being advised to leave as well.

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