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August 15, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Fire officials hope for 25 percent containment of wildfire today

Firefighters contain a structural fire in a charred field as the Taylor Bridge wildfire continues to burn northwest of Thorp. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times) See more photos →

Fire crews could have the Taylor Bridge Fire 25 percent contained by the end of the day, a cautious fire official said late this morning.

“I think we’re going to make some significant gains in containing the fire today,” said fire incident commander Rex Reed.

Reed said he is “cautiously optimistic that we might be in the 25 percent contained range by the end of today.”

Fire crews will be focusing on the neighborhoods around Dry Creek and Bettas Road, he said.

The wildfire continues to swallow up most everything in its path and the threat to homes remains high.

In particular, homes in the Sunlight Waters and Hidden Valley subdivisions, as well as several homes scattered elsewhere, are in danger.

The number of homes destroyed by the fire ranges from 60 to 70, fire officials are now saying. Meanwhile, Reed said some evacuees in other areas are being allowed to return to their homes.

Fire crews are using bulldozers and shovels to create a perimeter between the fire and land that has not burned, Randy Shepard, a fire information officer, said this morning. Ten helicopters and two air tankers are available with water and fire retardant.

About 800 firefighters are now on the ground, up from 500 yesterday, he said.

They will have an uphill battle. Only 10 percent of the fire is contained and it will be another hot day.

Jeremy Wolf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane, said that, fortunately, the high winds that have been fanning the flames have quieted down. He said temperatures in the area will be in the mid- to upper 80s today.

“The lighter wind speeds is good news for sure,” Wolf said. “But  it’s still going to be hot and dry out there.”

Firefighter Charlie Gnegy, left, helps to carry a tent out of a misty field before heading out on duty for the third day of the Taylor Bridge Fire Wednesday. (Photo by Jordan Stead / The Seattle Times)

In all, the fire has spread over about 40 square miles.

Estimates vary on the number of people who have been evacuated, ranging from 400 to about 900 people. Some people are staying put, trying to save their homes by whatever means they have — borrowed bulldozers, water from swimming pools and hand shovels. There have been moments of success, but too often the fight has been lost.

“There has been considerable public traffic in the fire area. We ask the public to stay out,” Shepard said.

During a news conference yesterday, Department of Natural Resources commissioner Peter Goldmark called the wildfire an “explosive, dangerous situation.”

“We’re doing our best to bring it under control,” said  Goldmark, who toured the area Tuesday.

He said Washington fire crews, so far, have faced the blaze without regional support because of other fires in the West. “We’re kind of on our own,” he said. “There’s nobody else to turn to.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for Kittitas and Yakima counties, making available additional resources, including Washington National Guard helicopters. Shelters have opened in Cle Elum and Ellensburg, though few people have sought refuge there.

Comments | Topics: Chris Gregoire, Cle Elum, Ellensburg


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