Blaze forces hundreds to evacuate homes

Dan Catchpole / Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic Published Aug 15, 2012 at 05:00AM

CLE ELUM, Wash. — One veteran firefighter is calling the Taylor Bridge Fire in Kittitas County one of the most extreme he’s seen in 35 years.

The fire’s behavior and the conditions in which it is burning are “extreme,” said Rex Reed, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

An estimated 600 firefighters were expected to arrive Tuesday at the fire, which has destroyed some 60 homes.

The blaze is believed to have been started by a construction crew working on the Taylor Bridge on Monday, Reed said.

About 400 to 450 people have been evacuated so far, along with up to 200 horses and other livestock, Reed said at a media briefing Tuesday morning.

Gov. Chris Gregoire gave approval Monday for National Guard air resources to be committed to firefighting efforts, allowing heavy-duty helicopters to begin dumping buckets of water on the fire.

Officials expect more evacuations, especially along the north and northeast boundaries of the fire, which is where the wind is currently pushing the flames.

The fire has “very rapid rates of spread” because of constant ground cover and scrub brush, Reed said, but it’s not as hot as a timber fire would be, and it hasn’t hit a lot of heavily wooded areas.

Units are monitoring the fire’s path from the air, and there is concern that it could move into more forested areas.

“This fire could go in any direction,” Reed said.

He didn’t have an exact count on the number of firefighters on scene.

Firefighters have come in from Yakima, Selah, Naches, West Valley, stations on the west side of the state, and state agencies.

On Monday, the wildfire was one of three blazes in Kittitas County that started within a 90-minute span of each other. The other two were quickly doused.

Homeowners have not yet been notified whether their houses were destroyed. Shelters have been set up at Central Washington University and in Cle Elum.

Reed was hopeful they would start getting the fire contained Monday, but it was still at zero percent containment as of Tuesday afternoon.

No injuries have been reported yet.

Officials warned people to stay away from the burning area and let professionals do their jobs, and to “not start any other fires,” as resources are already being stretched to the maximum.