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The Today File

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August 14, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Houses burned, houses saved, lives turned upside down

Ed and Maggie Taasevigen stood on black ground Tuesday afternoon, beside their green Ford Escort that was speckled with orange flame retardant.

Their mobile home was gone. So was Ed’s leather-working shop and two trucks, all destroyed by the fast-moving Taylor Bridge Fire.

Most everything the Taasevigens owned went up in smoke minutes after the flames forced them off their property Monday around 5 p.m.

A sheriff’s deputy, who brought the news that they had to leave, had helped them load their sled dogs into vehicles.

The firefighting effort was already at their doorstep. At one point Maggie had to duck her head into a car to avoid being doused with flame retardant from a plane overhead.

Power poles still smoked along Highway 97 north of the Taasevigens’ home between Thorp and Ellensburg Tuesday afternoon while the couple looked at what was left. It wasn’t much. They were arranging to borrow a freezer to save some meat.

Throughout their neighborhood, the luckiest homeowners still had a home, protected by fire retardant dropped from a plane. The homes stood in circles of orange dirt amid an otherwise charred landscape.

“We had two minutes to get out, said Dawn Bequez, whose blue farmhouse was standing but who lost three outbuildings and some vehicles when the fire raced through Monday. She and her husband gathered up their two kids and two dogs, let their two horses go, and left two cats behind. All the animals survived, although their orange cat was black, she  said.

Bequez and her husband waited across Highway 97 from their home Tuesday to meet the insurance adjuster. While they felt lucky, they watched nervously as smoke billowed just over the nearby ridge line, threatening to turn around for a second pass.

Along Interstate 5 between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, drivers pulled over to watch billowing smoke and blackened hillsides.

Near Red Sky Orchards east of Cle Elum, an entire neighborhood could be seen from the freeway, going up in flames while helicopters dumped water on the fire.

“I’m watching my house burn down right now,” said Haley Lindelof, 16, as she sat on the edge of a pickup, wiping tears from her face.

A junior firefighter for Kittitas County’s District 1, Lindelof helped evacuate residents overnight, but found the fire at her family’s doorstep Tuesday.

Her mom sat beside her on the back of the truck, parked at the side of the road with a view of their burning subdivision.

“Right now it’s so uncontrollable, there’s not much you can do anymore,” she said.

At the corner of Smithson and Reecer Creek roads, Lyla Steele called her husband home from his landscaping job around 1 p.m., when flames were visible across the road, licking barns beneath the power lines and growing ever closer. A neighbor watched with binoculars as a plume of gray smoke moved across the field.

“We’re ready to leave if we have to,” Steele said, clutching her Blackberry, her earrings spinning in the windy afternoon. Her kids were in the house. She had been calling the evacuation hotline every half hour.

It’s how many families spent the day Tuesday, waiting with cars packed, horse trailers at the ready, watching the smoke.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, but never been this close to a fire, ” she said.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: mobile home, Taylor Bridge Wildfire


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