I-90 reopens after closure due to brush fire near Kittitas

KITTITAS, Wash. — Both directions of Interstate 90 reopened Friday afternoon near Kittitas after a large brush fire overnight.

Authorities closed I-90 east of Ellensburg Thursday because of a fast-moving brush fire in Kittitas and Yakima counties that has grown to an estimated 70,000 acres. It is 15 percent contained.

The westbound lanes were reopened at about 7 a.m.

After 4:15 p.m., the Washington State Department of Transportation said it had reopened one eastbound lane of I-90. All lanes reopened just after 9 p.m.

Parts of the fires were close to the road and flames were visible on the drive towards The Columbia River Gorge in Vantage.

Mandatory evacuations have been issued and the Wanapum Recreation Area near Vantage is closed until further notice.

The Washington State Patrol says the Boylston fire was reported at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, seven miles east of Kittitas.

As of Thursday evening, the fire was at 6,000 acres, but it quickly grew overnight to 70,000 acres by Friday morning, according to the Yakima Training Center, where part of the fire is now burning.

On Saturday morning, fire officials said the Boylston fire was still at 70,000 acres.

The land in Yakima is used by Joint Base Lewis-McChord for live fire and training exercises. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources says the area is large and grassy, not populated, and has minimal structures.

Crews were working on burn out operations Thursday night, in which crews proactively burn a line that will burn back into the fire to eliminate the fuel.

DNR said at least 150 firefighting personnel were at the scene but that the fire is difficult for ground crews to access.

Ellen Rundgren said she drove to the Columbia River Gorge on Thursday and was forced to flee the fires, “We stepped outside and could see the whole hill was on fire it was crazy.”

Her friend Patricia Sylva echoed the sentiment that the fires were simply too close to where they decided to camp, “definitely terrifying to be so close to it.”

The two women said the flames raced towards their RVs and they realized their stay at a campground for the weekend was going to last 30 minutes.

They said sheriff’s deputies told them to evacuate the campground as the wildfire spread. Rundgren said the order came after they spent hours in traffic Thursday, “we just decided we're going to hang out in the public boat launch and set up camp here.”

Even with the flames along the highway, WSP Trooper John Bryant hopes there won't be another closure of eastbound I-90.

The interstate will see a busy weekend -- with many people headed to multiple concerts at the Gorge Amphitheater.

DNR spokesman Rick Acosta urged people to be vigilant as they travel through the dry fire zone of Kittitas County, “we're asking people to be very careful with any spark they may have control over, we don't need any human caused fires.”

Rundgren and Sylva said they ultimately settled on camping in a paved parking lot near a boat launch, they were cooking with their own flames and watching the larger ones from a distance said Rundgren, “the fire wasn't going to beat us this is our camping weekend!”

Acosta said the fire was not contained and as of Friday evening there was no timeline for when it would be.

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