CLE ELUM, Wash. - A large plume of smoke is proof the Jolly Mountain fire is far from being tamed. In just three days, the fire 11 miles northwest of Cle Elum has grown to more than 20,000 acres. Its march across rugged terrain so far has been unstoppable.
The fire was started by a lightning strike on August 11, according to the incident page on the fire.
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So far, it is 0% contained and has closed destinations in the area that otherwise would be packed with people for Labor Day weekend.
A retired Boeing engineer is now living at a Red Cross shelter in the heart of Cle Elum.
"I've been here since Wednesday evening," said resident John Kelly.
"And you're still smiling?" he was asked.
"What else can you do?" Kelly said, laughing.
He said his entire community received a Level 3 evacuation order, and he is not encouraged by what he is seeing and hearing.
"This thing does seem to be not calming down at night," said Kelly. "Normally you would think a fire would, at night, kind of calm down. But it is so tinder dry out here."
And all the signs point to it continuing to be dry. Temperatures will range from 83 to 88 degrees Monday with mostly clear skies and critically low humidity.
The National Weather service issued a red flag warning indicating that the fire is likely to grow even further and Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide state of emergency, partially because of the fire.
In response, more resources poured into Cle Elum Sunday. Now 677 firefighters, nearly 80 engines, and 15 aircraft are deployed there.
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Fire officials estimate there's about 20 miles of an active fire perimeter in a lot of steep terrain.
"Firefighters have been working actively to widen lines away from the fire, indirect lines," said Tim Jones, a Jolly Mountain Fire spokesman, "in preparation to be able to fight the fire when it gets to those lines."
Meanwhile, this is the second Level 3 evacuation for Kelly in about a dozen years. Kelly questioned whether he'd continue to live in an area so prone to forest fires.
"I mean going through this twice, it kind of taxes you a little," Kelly said.
The red flag warning is to end at 8 p.m. Sunday, but if conditions don't improve, it could be issued again.
All campfires in the Cle Elum ranger district have been banned and the Jolly Mountain Fire also means many popular campsites and trails, often packed for the holiday weekend, are closed.
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