Fire near Highway 2 devours timber, threatens homes

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

Loading

Eastern Washington wildfires driven by wind and bone-dry conditions have caused evacuations, threatened homes, closed highways and devoured trees, brush and grass.

The latest of three fires, the Chiwaukum Creek wildfire, is burning halfway between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth, yet you can see smoke from it in Seattle, more than 100 miles away. 

It's billowing at times up to 25,000 feet into the sky.  Trees are burning so fast that the first 500-acre fire rose to 6,600 acres by Thursday afternoon.

The fire is threatening 860 homes.

Sabrina Brakensiek owns one of them.  She was in Lake Chelan when neighbors told her about the fire nearby.   She has packed her car with a few precious, irreplacable items, like a mosaic she made with her that she said was the only thing she didn't want to lose.

John  Broers is also one of the people told to leave his home for his own safety.

“We were watching it blow up and we were thinking, wow, hope it doesn’t get to us,” said Broers.

More than 300 firefighters are in the area trying to prevent anyone from being hurt, including themselves. The fire blew up so quickly Wednesday that they had to retreat from one side of it. 

A 21-mile section of Highway 2 between Cole’s Corner and Tumwater Canyon has been shut down, and drivers cannot get to and from Stevens Pass from Leavenworth.

There were no detours, which meant Karen Dunlap couldn't get to a big family celebration just a few miles from the barricade, even though her husband and daughters were already there in the evacuation zone. 

“We’re hoping they’ll get their stuff loaded up pretty quick and we’ll make our way out,” Dunlap said. 

After driving eight hours from a kayaking trip in Canada, Skip Butler was told he couldn't get back home to Leavenworth.

 The only option was going back to Seattle and taking Interstate 90 across the mountains, which was a four-hour detour. 

Butler looked at the state troopers and said, "We’re stalling them and hoping that they’ll change their mind, but the fire looks like it’s going pretty big right now.”  

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Baptist Church in Leavenworth.

The good news is the fire has not crossed Highway 2.   The goal is keep the fire from jumping the highway and pushing on toward more populated areas.  But 90 degree heat and winds gusting to 30 mph are making that a challenge. 

In all, firefighters are tackling three wildfires -- The Mills Canyon fire in Chelan County has been burning the longest.  Chiwaukum Creek and Kelly Mountain are burning nearby.

Chelan County Emergency Management said air monitoring has Wenatchee and Leavenworth listed as unhealthy.  Those sensitive to the smoke need to stay inside as much as possible . Those who have to go outside are advised to wear a mask.