KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. - Firefighters are five to seven days from containing the Taylor Bridge Fire, the man overseeing the response said Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, incident commander Rex Reed said emergency workers hoped to have the fire 25 percent contained by 5 p.m. It wasn't immediately clear if firefighters had done that. The goal was put in perspective by Reed's later statement that it could be a week before the blaze is fully under control.
"We are doing our darndest to get this thing contained," The Daily Record quoted Reed as saying.
The fire was roughly 28,000 acres in size and only 10 percent contained Wednesday morning. About 450 people have been evacuated.
Crews focused their efforts on three areas between Cle Elum and Ellensburg. All three zones contain either heavy timber or a lot of homes and developments.
Concern persists due to high temperatures forecast for Thursday and Friday, and the threat of lightning looming on Saturday.
Incident commander Rex Reed said 60* primary residences have been destroyed, along with hundreds of outbuildings and other structures.
*That figure was revised from a reported 70 earlier in the day.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated by the Department of Natural Resources. DNR says the fire began at a Department of Transportation construction site.
The WSDOT has identified the contractor working on the bridge as Conway. WSDOT has advised fire victims to document their losses, contact their own insurance companies and file a claim, and then contact Traveler's Insurance (Conway's insurance company) at 206-464-5756.
Some 900 firefighters are working to douse the flames. Some people could return to their homes as early as Wednesday night, and officials said they hope to bring many more back to their homes Thursday and Friday.
"Things went well overnight," Reed said Wednesday morning. "We're at 800 people assigned to this fire now, so we should have a good day."
Firefighters are focusing on preventing the fire from threatening a housing development near Cle Elum and moving into a stand of timber.
Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for Kittitas and Yakima counties in response to the blaze. That provided air support from the Washington National Guard.
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Rick Price was in an area near Ellensburg where the fire burned through, leaving nothing but charred and blackened land. The burned-out hulk of a van that was left behind was a sign of the fire's ferocity. The driver parked it very briefly, and got out for a closer look at at the flames, but the fire rocketed through so fast, it was in flames almost immediately.
Brad Rorem and his two sons saw the fire under the Taylor Bridge construction site, where it started, just down the hill from their cabin near Cle Elum. They fled when it ran in their direction.
"It just shot up so fast," he said, adding later: "We feel really fortunate to have gotten off the mountain in time."
Hours later and several miles to the east, Miriam Greenman left her home with her 6-year-old son, Nathaniel, a handful of clothes and some of his favorite toys to comfort him. Their fish stayed behind.
"I feel bad about the fish, but I figured he was in water and he'd have to tough it out," she said.
By Tuesday evening, their homes had survived the blaze, but many neighbors weren't so lucky.
Desperate neighbors tried to cut out containment lines with hand tools to help protect property threatened by the fast-moving fire, while others loaded up horse trailers to help evacuate livestock to the county fairgrounds.
Kittitas County Fire and Rescue Capt. Joe Seemiller said the wind has made it extremely difficult to turn back the flames.
"Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we're going to be fighting this awhile," he said.
Meanwhile, at the Ellensburg Holiday Inn Express, shelves are filled with donated boxes of clothes, books and toiletries that will go to the Red Cross to help those displaced by the fire.
The huge outpouring of support there started when the hotel had some guests who had been evacuated from their homes and employees wanted to help.