Updated:CLE ELUM, Wash. —
UPDATE (5:13 p.m.): Firefighters said they'd been making good progress in the fight against the Taylor Bridge Fire, but at about 1 p.m. Friday, a new fire broke out and threatened another neighborhood.
It happened just south of Highway 970 in the shadow of the flames fire crews had built a perimeter around. The new blaze is burning 10 acres.
Four helicopters equipped with massive water buckets were dispatched to fight the flames. The fire broke out in a place too rugged to be attacked by ground crews.
The helicopters worked much of the day to douse the fire from the air, and fire officials said ground crews secured a perimeter around the fire.
"We're not worrying within the perimeter because a lot of the fuels have burned out already," fire information officer Mark Grassel said.
He added that fire crews are focusing their attention on the fire's northern edge.
Those crews are battling the heat, too, which led to a Red Flag Warning (a fire weather warning).
The grueling work appeared to pay dividends, however, as the evacuation level for one neighborhood was lifted just long enough Friday to allow residents in.
"So they'll be able to go and access their property today, and do an assessment of, you know, how it fared in the fire," Grassel said.
As firefighting efforts head into the weekend, officials said their mainly concerned about the new 10-acre fire, and the possibility of lightning strikes in the fire zone.
Crews focused their Friday efforts on the blaze's northern perimeter between Lambert Road and Hidden Valley Road with hopes of preparing for burnout operations once the weather improves.
Firefighters made significant gains overnight, which allowed some evacuees to return home and brought the fire to 33 percent containment. The fire is 22,787 acres in size with a perimeter of 40 miles.
Officials said they're concerned about lightning over the weekend, but are hoping to have the fire fully contained by Sunday.
In the meantime, "mop-up operations" are expected to continue for several days. From an Incident Management Team news release:
Mop-up operations include extinguishing burning material and falling snags, and patrolling and checking for hotspots within the fire footprint. Mop-up standards will be dictated by fuel conditions and terrain. Preliminary mop-up distances will be 300 feet from the fire perimeter. Around structures mop-up distances will be 300 feet within the grasslands and 500 feet in forested areas.
Firefighters stopped a fire about 75 miles east of Seattle from destroying more buildings in the past two days, fire spokesman Mark Grassel said Thursday. The blaze near the town of Cle Elum burned at least 70 homes, more than 200 outbuildings and about 35 square miles of wildland since it started Monday.
Crews focused on strengthening lines on the fire's stubborn north flank, where flames whipped through thick pine and fir forests in a steep, rugged area and much of the fire is being fought from the air.
"They're really trying to button up that line so they feel more secure about it holding," Grassel said.
The work of nearly 1,000 firefighters (955, according to the incicent team) allowed officials to lift some evacuation orders along the south and southeast, although homeowners said they didn't feel out of danger yet.
Laurie Plut said the fire has hovered right at the timber line, just beyond the wood cabin she and her husband have been building over the past 12 years.
"We're still worried. It's extremely frustrating, but the firefighters have been working hard," she said by telephone. "And we have to love them."
Lon Lewis and Kathryn Anderson were given only minutes to evacuate their house, which could still be destroyed by the continuing flames.
They’ve already lost an old family farm and ranch in the fire.
They took their vintage car collection with them as a possible down payment on a future they don't like to even consider.
“If we lose everything, you know, we can sell those and rebuild,” said Lon Lewis.
In neighborhoods where homes were destroyed by the fire, fire crews may have to escort people in because of the danger of downed power lines.
One of the resources being used to fight the fire is a DC-10 plane dropping retardant.
The converted passenger jet has the capability of dropping 12,000 gallons of water or retardant in one pass.
In comparison, the largest bucket carried by a helicopter can only drop 2,600 gallons.