RONALD, Wash. - From their home in Ronald, the Sanders family has an ever-changing view of the Jolly Mountain Fire, some four-and-a-half miles away. They've seen columns of smoke, the glow of flames at night, and, in the last few days, a low layer of thick smoke hanging over everything.
Under what's called a Level 2 evacuation, they must be ready to go at a moment's notice. Two vehicles are loaded with important papers, photos and a couple changes of clothes.
"When you live here for years there's so much to go through, you just make the decision (about what to pack)," said Diana Sanders.
The pet carriers are ready for their dog, two cats and a turtle.
Her husband, Shawn Sanders, said "Our plan is to throw my tent in my pickup and it will be our portable refugee camp."
The Level 3 evacuation order has not come for the Sanders family, but it has for their neighbors just up the road. On Monday, 154 homes were under that highest level of evacuation, which, officially anyway, means people cannot stay home. In fact, a few are staying put and many others are driving back and forth, checking in at a police roadblock, and hauling out whatever they can.
Chris Nipps made about a half dozen round trips with his pickup, and returned Monday to his home to cut down more plants near the house that might fuel the fire if it turns his way.
"We're just trying to do everything we can to stack the odds in our favor should we need the odds," Nipps said.
A shift in wind from the east worried residents near Cle Elum Lake on Monday.
Fire managers estimated the size of the fire Tuesday morning was 20,975 acres. That evening, they planned to use infrared mapping technology in an airplane to get a more accurate read of the fire's footprint, something that doesn't work well during the heat of the day. While they expected the fire would spread, they also said the inversion layer of smoke helped keep the fire activity down, giving firefighters more of a chance to build containment lines.
"It definitely helps the cause," said fire information officer Morgan O'Brien.
But air quality in Cle Elum suffered. A state website listed it as “hazardous” Monday morning, improving to “unhealthy” later in the day.
Six hundred seventy-seven wildfire personnel were assigned to the fire on Monday. It began August 11 after a lightning strike, and grew dramatically last week.
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