Shifting winds help firefighters battling monster wildfire

by: David Ham Updated:

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Kittitas County, Wash. - A wind shift overnight has allowed dozens of homeowners in Kittitas County to go back to their homes after they were ordered to evacuate. "The weather has actually played in our favor today and we're making some pretty good progress in some ground that we lost yesterday due to spot fires," said Russ Hamilton of the Chelan County Fire Department.

The wildfire that started on Saturday morning, south of Wenatchee has burned at least 80,108 acres and is now 30 percent contained. "Instead of chasing the fire they're actually able to get some line around it work on containment," said Hamilton.

The fire has burned five houses off of the Colockum Road area near Wenatchee. It has not burned any homes in Kittitas County where the Level 3 evacuations are in place near Parke Creek Road, but three outhouses have burned.

Henry Herren's daughter lives on upper Parke Creek Road, where she evacuated her livestock and dogs, but has not gone herself. "She said she's going to stay there and hose it down and keep it from burning her house," said Herren.

Firefighters also credit the shifting wind in helping them protect the Wild Horse Wind Farm off of Vantage Road. The fire came within a couple of hundred feet of the turbines. The farm has 149 turbines that can generate power for 70,000 homes a year. Twelve thousand of those homes are in Kittitas County. Firefighters were able to push the fire back enough so that none of the turbines were damaged.

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office released this public service announcement on the fire: "The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office advises the Level 3 Evacuations will remain in place for the next 24 hours for the upper Parke Creek, upper Colockum and Secret Canyon areas. The Sheriff's Office is continually evaluating the evacuation levels as more fire information becomes available." There are approximately 40-45 structures in the Level 3 Evacuation area, including primary residences and recreational properties. The Emergency Operations Center has confirmed no structures have been lost in Secret Canyon. Possible structure loss in other evacuated areas has not been determined at this time.

The Red Cross emergency shelter remains open at the Mercer Creek Church, 1407 N. B Street, Ellensburg. Anyone from the evacuation area who will be staying with family or friends, please provide contact information to the EOC at 509-933-8305 so we can provide you with updates. The animal shelter is also still open at the Kittitas Valley Event Center. During regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone needing the animal shelter can check-in at the Western Town Ticket Center at Alder Street and Eighth Avenue. Those needing assistance after business hours should call Kittcom at 509-925-8534.

A public meeting will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at Central Washington University's Student Union Recreation Center, Ballroom B & C, second floor, 400 E. University Way, Ellensburg. Representatives from the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center and the Washington Incident Management Team No. 4 will be present to give a fire update and answer questions. Parking is free.

Residents affected by the fire can contact the EOC during business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or Kittcom at 509-925-8534 during non-business hours, or visit the county website for updates and evacuation maps at http://www.co.kittitas.wa.us/. For fire information, please visit http://inciweb.org/incident/3567/, or contact the Colockum Tarps Fire at 509-662-9984.