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Low winds help crews battle stubborn wildfires

Smoke from a wildfire near White Salmon, Wash., is visible from the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore., on Thursday. (Associated Press)
Smoke from a wildfire near White Salmon, Wash., is visible from the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore., on Thursday. (Associated Press)

YAKIMA – Firefighters working in hot weather and dry terrain made progress Thursday against a wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than two dozen homes in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Gorge.

The Highway 141 fire was 10 percent contained and didn’t grow significantly Thursday, Forest Service spokesman Stan Hinatsu said Thursday evening.

No structures have been burned and no one has been injured, he said.

About 450 firefighters tackled the blaze Thursday.

More accurate aerial mapping has reduced the size of the fire to nearly 2 square miles – or 1,200 acres. It’s burning timber and grass in south-central Washington, about 60 miles northeast of Portland in a rural area known among outdoors enthusiasts for its whitewater rafting, salmon fishing and wind surfing.

Low winds aided the effort Thursday, pushing the fire back toward areas that had already burned, and helped firefighters to fully contain two other wildfires that each burned across nearly a square mile in the state’s central region.

The new blazes served as a reminder that with hot temperatures come increasing wildfire risks, even as summer gradually winds into fall. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has said continued dry conditions would cause the wildfire season to linger in much of the West, and that chances were low for a season-ending weather event with rain or snow in the Northwest.

Near the Columbia River Gorge, residents of about 40 homes were told to evacuate, Hinatsu said. Another 400 residences were threatened by the fire north of the town of White Salmon.

The exact cause of the fire has not been determined, but authorities said it’s not necessarily suspicious.

“Obviously, it’s human caused in some way,” Hinatsu said. “It could have been the wheel from a flat tire throwing off sparks.”

Temperatures in central Washington have been several degrees above average in recent days. They were expected to remain above average through Sunday, when a cold front could bring cooler temperatures but more wind.

“That will be a system we’ll be watching, because it will bring in windy conditions and not a lot of precipitation,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Cote. “If there are still ongoing fires, it could make them a little harder to contain.”

Meanwhile, fire crews south of the Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington contained a blaze that burned between 700 and 800 acres near Paterson and temporarily closed Highway 14.

The blade on a piece of heavy equipment struck a rock at a construction site Thursday morning, sparking the blaze.

Crews to the north also fully contained a wildfire that started at about midnight Wednesday and blackened an estimated 700 acres near Ellensburg before firefighters contained it Thursday.

No structures burned and no injuries were reported in either fire.