Heat, wind, thunderstorms raise wildfire fears

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by Associated Press and KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 12 at 11:55 PM

ENTIAT, Wash. – A 34-squre mile wildfire in central Washington could be at risk of growing with an expected change in the weather Sunday, which includes possible thunderstorms and a shift in the wind direction.

Firefighters are also battling the heat at the Mills Canyon fire, which was 22-percent contained Saturday. The fire is burning grass and brush near Entiat, roughly midway between Seattle and Spokane.

"We are seeing moderate fire behavior today, but it's not making runs and getting ahead of itself like it was," Fire operations spokesman Rick Acosta said. "We're hoping to keep it where it is."
   
There was more moisture in the trees above 3,000 feet in elevation, and on hills where the fire incinerated dead and downed logs to thin lines of ash, some of the standing pines remained green, he said.

Fire bosses are keeping a close watch on the 763 firefighters, looking for signs of heat exhaustion as the temperatures reached the 90s. Some of the firefighters have been on the job for five days. Steep terrain is also a concern.

Eight helicopters, which can carry 250-to-1,600 gallons of water per load, are assisting from above. The pilots are highly skilled. The pool of water they have to collect from is 10-feet in diameter.

Residents of several dozen homes had been told to evacuate. Officials said crews did good work protecting more than 100 houses along Highway 97A, and on Saturday they were working to protect 14 homes along Roaring Creek, near the fire's northern edge. Another priority was digging fire lines along the southwestern edge to contain the blaze.

Cattle ranchers Les and Lorraine Kile have been through this before. Thirty years ago, a fire at their other ranched burned some of their cattle. So when the Level 3 mandatory evacuation was ordered at Mills Canyon, they refused to go. Firefighters battled to keep the flames just feet away from their house.

The Kiles’ cattle went missing, but were found Saturday with the exception of one newborn calf. But, the fire has burned all of the grass on their 1,000-acre property, so they have moved the cattle to a ranch in Cashmere.

Authorities worried about the hot weather over the next few days and warned that thunderstorms Sunday and Monday could start more fires. State officials have extended an outdoor burn ban to include all 13 million acres of lands that the state protects.
   
The Mills Canyon fire was the largest of a half-dozen fires burning in central and eastern Washington. The others were all less than 3 square miles, and most were contained or nearing full containment.

KING 5's Alison Morrow contributed to this report.

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