The next 24 hours could prove crucial for containment of the Mills Canyon fire in Central Washington, which has already burned nearly 22,000 acres.
More than 750 firefighters from across the region made solid progress keeping the blaze from populated areas on Saturday, according to U.S. Forest Service Fire Information Service Spokesman Daniel O’Connor.
Using hotshot crews, helicopters, air tankers and bulldozers they were able to contain 25 percent of the blaze, though the west and northwest corners remain active. Meanwhile, the 400-acre 25 Mile Creek Fire near Lake Chelan is expected to be 100 percent controlled by Sunday afternoon, fire personnel said.
But forecasters warning of dry lightning strikes Sunday evening have firefighters worried. Such storms, marked by high winds and little rain, create the potential for a new, much larger fire if lightning hits the bone-dry ground outside the contained area.
“The forecast is not good,” O’Connor said. “When those kinds of storms come in, there’s no rain, or it evaporates before it hits the ground, so it’s basically the worst possible situation. It wouldn’t take anything to get a fire going.”
Currently, residents of 37 homes in the Entiat area are under a Level 3 evacuation warning — the most serious — meaning they must leave.
The residents of an additional 51 homes have been told that they must be ready to evacuate, and those living in another 433 have been notified that fire is in their area.
As the Mills Canyon fire has grown more complex, crews have bulked up, adding about 20 people since Saturday. Most are camping at Entiat High School, and the rest at a city park, O’Connor said.
“We’ve got 781 people on the fire now. They’re coming from all over the west, and that will probably continue,” he said. “The weather this afternoon is a big concern.”