Rising temperatures challenge crews battling Chelan County wildfires

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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ENTIAT, Wash. - As firefighters prepare for continued work through the weekend, soaring temperatures and low humidity pose challenges for containing the more than 20,394-acre Mills Canyon Fire.

Late Friday, the Mills Canyon fire was 22 percent contained.

A second fire at 25 Mile Creek near the south shore of Lake Chelan has maintained its initial size of 400 acres, and officials feel they can keep that fire from growing much larger.

With temperatures above 100 degrees expected this weekend, Fire Information Officer Nick Mickel said firefighters will need to operate with a buddy system.

“You look out for yourself and look after your buddy to make sure you’re doing the right thing to keep hydrated and keep cool, so we don’t have to medevac somebody off the line,” Mickel said.

High heat and low humidity mean flying embers can spark more easily and spread the fire faster. This becomes a major concern for the area near Swakane Canyon, with a very different topography.

“It’s some really steep, tough, rugged country,” Mickel said.

A hot spot sparked on a ridge above that area Friday afternoon, triggering an alert for 294 homes nearby. Crews will have to prevent those flames from moving southward, where a radio tower controls all communication for firefighters and emergency personnel.

Late Friday, 528 families had been alerted. Some were told to just be on alert as the fire approaches, while at least 40 families were told to leave immediately.

Tamela Baldwin lives in a zone where residents were told to be ready to leave if conditions worsen. She had suitcases packed in the back of her car, full of birth certificates, insurance papers, and photos.

She said she watches the flames on the opposite hillside during the day, but added, “It’s a light show at nighttime though. You can really see the flames everywhere when the sun goes down. So it’s a little nerve-wracking.”

Barb Gardner took cellphone video Wednesday night when she saw flames racing across the top of the mountain across from her house.

“It kind of looked like a city over there, with all the hot spots, and the fires burning in all the different spots. Every so often a tree would go up and just kind of explode,” she said.

By Thursday morning, the hillside was almost bare.

“Periodically throughout the day you could hear it crackling and popping. It was pretty surreal to see it go from green to black in one day,” Gardner said.

She also pointed out that among the few clusters of trees left, one of them has a bald eagle’s nest sitting on top.

Gardner said with all the firefighters she sees going back and forth all day, she wanted to show her appreciation. She created a “thank you” sign and put it on her lawn.

 

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