Wildfire threat evacuates homes, closes US 2

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by KING 5 News and Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Updated Saturday, Jul 19 at 11:14 AM

The latest:

  • About 850 homes near Leavenworth are under Level 3 evacuation notice.
  • Chiwaukum Creek Fire, part of the Mills Canyon Complex near Leavenworth, doubled in size Wednesday to 1,300 acres.
  • 15-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 closed at Coles Corner west of Leavenworth.
  • A Red Cross shelter has been set up at the First Baptist Church in Leavenworth.
  • State of Emergency declared in 20 Eastern Washington counties.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Driven by scorching hot temperatures and strong winds, a new central Washington wildfire is threatening hundreds of homes and sending up a towering column of smoke.
    
The Chiwaukum Creek Fire about 10 miles north of Leavenworth had raced across more than 1,200 acres by Wednesday evening and prompted the closure of a 15-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2. Chelan County Emergency Management said it's not known when the highway will re-open.
    
As many as 400 people have been told to leave their homes or cabins and another 800 homes were threatened, said Eileen Ervin, a Chelan County emergency management spokeswoman. Residents were told to remember the six "P's" when evacuating - people, pets, prescriptions, important papers, photos and personal computer.

The Chiwaukum Creek Fire, first detected Tuesday, was believed caused by lightning. It sent a smoke plume 25,000 feet into the air as it burned through heavy timber.

"This is a crown fire. In other words the fire is moving from one tree to another tree and it's being forced by the wind. And it's so big because of that column being at 25,000 feet, it's feeding itself. It's developing its own weather pattern," said Joe Anderson with the National Forest Service.

While the fire's smoke and rapid growth made assessment difficult, a fire spokesman, Mike Mueller, said there was no confirmed loss of any homes by Wednesday evening.

Anderson said the low humidity, combined with high temperatures and wind, create extreme fire danger. Leavenworth, where the Red Cross set up a shelter at the First Baptist Church, reached 104 degrees Wednesday and winds gusted to 18 mph.

A state of emergency has been declared in 20 eastern Washington counties because of multiple wildfires and temperatures in triple digits. The declaration allows state officials to call up the Washington National Guard. It also directs state agencies to help local governments respond to wildfires.

Evacuation levels were changing. Check the Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page or follow on Twitter for the latest on evacuations and road closures.

CCEM said Wednesday that Entiat River Road has been closed at Fox Creek due to the Tommy Creek Fire. The Fox Creek Campground, Lake CG, Silver Falls CG, North Fork, Spruce Grove CG and Cottonwood CG are all closed.


The state's largest wildfire, the Mills Canyon blaze near the town of Entiat, was 40 percent contained and holding steady at about 35 square miles.
   
State fire assistance was ordered for the Carlton Complex of fires burning in north-central Washington's Methow Valley, where residents of about a dozen homes have been told to leave. Spokesman Jacob McCann said Wednesday evening that complex has burned across 7 square miles with zero containment.
   
The Washington National Guard sent two helicopters and 14 people to help battle the blaze.  The National Weather Service posted red flag warnings and fire weather watches for hazardous fire weather conditions (high temperatures, low humidity, high winds) for much of Eastern Washington from Wednesday afternoon through Friday.

State officials are worried extreme fire weather conditions and the lack of firefighting resources in the Northwest could hamper future firefighting efforts in the state.

The emergency proclamation of emergency covers Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties.

Smoke from multiple fires has reduced air quality in some areas. On Wednesday afternoon, air quality in Leavenworth was listed as "unhealthy." Check the Washington Air Quality Advisory Map

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has put a burn ban in place for all state lands through September 30.

Chelan County Emergency Management noted that wildfires disrupt wildlife, so if you are traveling in the area of a fire, be aware that animals may be moving more than usual and at different times of the day than usual. Watch for animals that may be fleeing the fire areas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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