New estimated size of Taylor Bridge Wildfire is 22,000 acres

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 7:12 AM

Fire managers on Wednesday afternoon refined the estimated size of the Taylor Bridge fire to 22,000 acres and said full containment will take another five to seven days.

"Our rough estimate yesterday was 28,077 acres, the acreage refined is down to about 22,000 acres," Incident Commander Rex Reed said at a community meeting. "That's about 40 miles of fire line."

Reed said during the first hours of the fire, it was difficult to determine which structures it was safe to save, and the focus was on evacuating people.

"It was all hands on deck to try to get people out from in front of that fire as much as possible," he said. "That was really the focus - to make sure nobody died that first 12 hours or so."

"Nobody's going to die on my watch," he said.

Reed said they still don't have an exact number on homes lost.

"Frankly it's just not safe to get to the interior of the fire yet," he said.

"I want to make sure that everybody - you all - are in one piece, so far, so good. I want to make sure every one of our firefighters is also in one piece," he said.

Reed said there will be residual smoke because it's not possible to mop up a fire of this size, but crews will be making sure any structures are secure.

"We'll continue to monitor that, and it will be monitored all the way until snow flies this winter," he said.

Reed said fire crews are working hard so that people who have been evacuated can get back to their homes.

"I feel for you, I can tell you my staff does, we're going to do everything we can," he said.

Weather conditions improve

On Wednesday morning, weather cooperated with firefighters battling the fire, giving them a chance to contain more the fire.

"It's a good day to fight fire," said Mark Clemens with Emergency Management. "More resources are coming in."

"Pretty good note on the weather - it's not getting worse," said Clemens. "Yesterday there were gusts up to 35 mph."

One firefighter suffered minor facial burns while working in the Sunlight Waters development but no other injuries were reported.

See the weather forecast for fire zone

Though winds were not expected to be as problematic, low humidity and heat will continue to be major factors. Temperatures are expected to remain in the upper 80s to low 90s through the weekend.

Authorities said they are worried about the hotter, drier conditions Thursday and Friday and the possibility of lightning Saturday. A red flag warning has been issued on the west side of the state for Wednesday.

Eight aircraft were flying the fire Wednesday, dropping water and retardant, including tankers from Moses Lake and Canada, and National Guard helicopters. Aerial resources were expected to work along the fire zone's northern border, dropping water along the perimeter where access by the fire crews is difficult.

View a detailed map of the Taylor Bridge Wildfire

About 900 firefighters are working the fire. Coordinators said they were optimistic they could have it 25 percent contained by the end of the day.

In addition to six new strike teams, a group of 145 prison inmates trained by the Washington Department of Natural Resources are helping the effort.

A construction crew working on the Taylor Bridge along S.R. 10 is believed to have caused the fire on Monday.

Mandatory evacuations are in Bettas Valley, as well as homes on the west side of U.S. 97 between the highway and the Swauk area.

Wednesday evening, the Kittitas County Sheriff issued a Level 3 evacuation in the Lauderdale Junction area; Burke Rd, Ranch Rd, Mountain Creek, and Fir Tree. 

Emergency coordinators urged the public to stay clear from the road closure area and to minimize traffic on roads accessed by fire crews.

"It was pretty amazing yesterday just watching it...[the fire] hit a particularly sappy tree and you'd watch it just explode, massive fireball," said Derrick Rucker, who lives nearby.

Wilson Creek, Alford Road, Look Road, Rustic Acres, and east of that area have reopened, allowing homeowners to return.

Town meetings on Wednesday

More than 100 structures have been destroyed by the Taylor Bridge fire, including 60 homes. Of the estimated 450 families evacuated, some haven't seen their houses in more than 24 hours, unsure whether they are still standing.

For people affected by the fire, two community meetings were scheduled Wednesday: at 4 p.m. at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School gymnasium and 7 p.m. at Central Washington University's Student Union and Recreation Center.

Two emergency shelters are operating: 

     -- Cle Elum Centennial Senior Center, 719 E. Third Street in Cle Elum, (509) 963-1141
     -- Central Washington University, Munson Dorms, 400 E. University Way in Ellensburg,  (509) 674-7530

Animals have been evacuated to the Kittitas County Fairground. A Facebook page has been set up for people to share information and resources about pets and animals.

A state of emergency remains in effect in Kittitas and Yakima counties. Federal funds have been freed up by FEMA to help pay for the firefight.

Both U.S. 97 and S.R. 10 run directly through the fire and remain closed.

Related links:

Info on how you can help

Kittitas Community Connect Facebook page

Stunning fire photos from Daily Record newspaper - click here

Watch: SkyKING video over burned homes, structures

View photos taken of the fire on Tuesday.

Photos of the fire can be sent to KING 5 via email, Twitter, Facebook, or posted directly to KING5.com using Your News.

KING 5's Susan Wyatt, Lindsay Chamberlain, Jake Whittenberg, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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