August 2, 2010 in City, Region

Lightning-sparked fires in WA prompt smoke warning

Associated Press
 

WENATCHEE — Even as many wildfires seemed to be winding down, the Washington Department of Ecology warned Monday that smoke from blazes in the north-central part of the state was spreading throughout Eastern Washington.

Clearing is expected later this week.

Until then, state officials recommended that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit the time they spend outdoors.

“If it looks and smells smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to play outdoors,” the Ecology Department said in a news release.

Lightning sparked as many as a dozen small fires in north-central Washington since Sunday, but most were tiny and were being attacked by firefighters.

Forest Service spokeswoman Robin DeMario said more lightning is forecast for evenings and this coming weekend.

The Rainbow Bridge fire has scorched 4,000 acres, or 6 1/4 square miles, and continues to burn about 2.5 miles up the remote Stehekin Valley.

Meanwhile, about 160 firefighters are being demobilized from the Wenatchee River complex of fires as those wind down. Those fires cover some 1,700 acres.

The complex includes the 1,600-acre Nahahum Fire, Devil’s Gulch Fire (37 acres), the Tripp Fire (72 acres), and nine others in the area less than two acres each.

The Nahahum Fire, a mile northeast of Cashmere, has fire lines everywhere but the northeast flank. Steep terrain has slowed progress in that area. More than 50 homes were evacuated during the weekend, but people have been allowed back into houses.

That fire cost Randy and Sheila McKee many of the materials they had been buying for years to build a new home.

The fire on Friday destroyed stacks of wood, flooring and scaffolding, plus boxes with lighting, faucets, sinks, and electrical conduit on the McKees’ property.

The couple had also started boxing up belongings from their Wenatchee home in preparation for selling that house, the Wenatchee World reported in today’s editions. They had their belongings in a rented storage container on their Nahahum Canyon property that was also destroyed, along with much of Randy McKee’s contractor equipment.

“I know from the outside it just looks like an ugly old storage container,” Sheila McKee said, wiping away tears. “But it had half our lives in it.”

Sheila McKee opened up one container and gasped. “These were baby books I was saving for my kids,” she said.

Randy McKee said when he first heard about the fire around 5 p.m. Friday, he brought heavy equipment to Nahahum Canyon in hopes of protecting his land. But the road was blocked and sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t let him through. Since there was no home on the site, none of the engines staged at other homes in the canyon were protecting the McKees’ property.

McKee was able to get through to his property around midnight Friday. He called his wife with the bad news.

The couple said they don’t believe they can afford to replace the building materials and build their new house.

“What’s done is done,” Randy McKee said. “Now it’s time to look for a bright side and see where we go from here.”

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