CLE ELUM, Wash. – Many of the residents who had to flee from a central Washington wildfire were allowed back into the evacuation area Friday, not knowing what they’d find.
“Some people will find their homes there, and others will find homes damaged or even lost,” said Mick Mueller, a spokesman at the fire command center. “It’s a big day for folks.”
The residents are returning to the south and east sides of the 35-square-mile burn zone.
“The folks will have to be working among fellers dropping hazardous trees and utility crews working to get the power back on in there,” Mueller said. “And firefighters are still working in there trying to put out hot spots.”
About 900 firefighters with eight helicopters continue building a line around the fire.
The Taylor Bridge fire broke out Monday at a bridge construction project and exploded through dry grass, brush and trees.
Authorities said Friday that the latest damage estimate was 48 residential properties and about 15 other structures.
The fire burned on the north side of Interstate 90 about 75 miles east of Seattle. More than 400 people evacuated.
One firefighter was sent home to recover from minor facial burns, but no other injuries have been reported. The 22,700-acre fire was about 40 percent contained Friday.
If conditions remain relatively calm, firefighters hope to have the fire contained Sunday, although it may smoke and smolder for days longer.
Firefighters also made progress at a wildfire near Grand Coulee Dam that scorched about 12 square miles. It broke out Tuesday evening near the community of Elmer City and burned two outbuildings and threatened several homes. It was 70 percent contained by late Thursday, said Colville tribal spokeswoman Kathy Moses.
The firefighting progress depends on the weather, and the forecast is not favorable.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for high wildfire danger in effect through tonight on the east side of the Cascades. In addition to the hot, dry conditions, there’s a chance for dry thunderstorms this evening with lightning that could start more fires.
“We need to get as much progress as we can, given the red flag warning,” Mueller said. “We’re kind of on edge about that.”