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August 14, 2012 at 7:37 AM

Wildfire near Cle Elum caused by construction work

Tom Colvin, 63, of Cle Elum, takes a break from sifting through his belongings after his house on Bettas Road succumbed to the Taylor Bridge Fire. High winds and dry conditions are fueling the fire that had burned nearly 26,000 acres by Tuesday morning. (Photo by Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)  
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A bridge construction crew working east of Cle Elum is believed to have caused the raging Taylor Bridge wildfire that  has burned 60 homes and nearly 26,000 acres and continues to spread, according to a spokeswoman at the fire scene.

More details about the cause of the fire weren’t immediately available from the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office which has been investigating the fire’s origin, according to Eastside Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Josie Williams who’s working as a spokeswoman at the fire scene.

“We have zero percent containment… this fire could go in any direction,” said Rex Reed, a fire spokesman.

With hot temperatures and high winds in the forecast, firefighters have a tough day ahead of them. Some 600 firefighters are expected to be on scene today.

Williams said more than 450 people were evacuated overnight. The Department of Natural Resources said that the sheriff’s office called for additional evacuations this morning.

The fire was moving so quickly that many people set livestock free to save them as the flames advanced, she said. The Kittitas County Fairgrounds is accepting pets and livestock as well.

A fire spokesman said that almost 200 horses have been evacuated.

In the meantime, fire crews continue to battle a blaze that is being fueled by dry conditions and strong winds.

With more than 26,000 acres, the wildfire is moving at 25-30 miles per hour and there is zero containment as of this morning, according to Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Grassel.

“It’s still spreading to the east and southeast,” Grassel said.

The Department of Corrections has sent 145 inmates from Cedar Creek, Larch and Olympic Corrections Centers to help fight the fire

Dry vegetation was fueling the fire on steep terrain, making it difficult for firefighters to knock it down.

The fire located, Highway 10, started about 1:15 p.m. on Monday and quickly spread, eventually jumping over Highway 97.

The Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office announced this morning that the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Camp Murray has been activated to assist in battling the fire. Personnel from the state fire marshal’s office will be on scene to coordinate resources.

This morning found Howard and Joanne Briggs having pancakes at the Cle Elum Senior Center, one of the Red Cross emergency shelters.

Their home at Sunlight Waters was not on fire, but their cars were stuffed with belongings as they fretted about why the day would bring. They have lived for 20 years in their home and evacuates once before for wildfire.

At 3 am, police cars and neighbors alerted them I the evacuation, they said. “You know when you’re in that panic situation you don’t think too well,” said Joanne. “I’m grabbing pictures off the wall.”

They slept a few hours on cots provided by the Red Cross.

Diana Goodrich, director of outreach at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum, said that the worst of the flames they saw near the property yesterday afternoon are dying out. Goodrich said that she evacuated with her pet dogs and cats yesterday, but her husband stayed put with the seven rescued chimpanzees.

“We’re definitely aware of the fire danger here and our protocol is that we’ve kept a perimiter around the building and a barrier. I think we were confident when we saw three helicopters overhead dumping water on the building, the firefighters did a great job.”

Firefighters battling the Taylor Bridge wildfire wait at dawn at a burnout line along Pheasant Lane at Reeser Creek Road near Ellensburg. High winds and dry conditions are fueling the fire that had burned nearly 26,000 acres by Tuesday morning. More photos (Photo by Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Goodrich said that they don’t have any power and are running on a minimal amount of electricity from a generator. She said they also don’t have access to their well water, so the chimps are drinking bottled water and orange juice.

“They’re bewildered, at least some of them,” but she said they’re trying to make today a party-like atmosphere for the chimpanzees.

At Red Sky Orchards, near exit 93 on Interstate 90 in Thorp, Victoria Dilley stood in the parking lot talked about being evacuated early this morning.

Dilley, who lives in Elma, had gone to her parent’s home near the wildfire. Around 2:30 a.m. a stranger on a motorcycle pulled up in front of the home and said they were about to be evacuated. Fifteen minutes later the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office showed up and asked them to evacuate.

“The sky was just red all the way around,” Dilley said.

Dilley and her parents, Delores, 83, and Ernie, 88, climbed into a truck and drove to a middle school in Ellensburg where they thought they could seek shelter. When they no one at the middle school, they drove back to the Red Sky Orchards parking lot, in Thorp, where they spent the night in their truck.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: Kittitas County Sheriff's Office, Taylor Bridge Wildfire, Washington State Department of Natural Resources


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