September 14, 2012 in City

Crews fight fire with fire

Associated Press photo

Yolanda Morse, of Wenatchee, wears a mask as she waits for a bus to return home from a doctor’s visit Thursday. She said a heart condition requires her to wear the mask to keep her respiratory system healthy. She is sitting with Justin Heermann, of East Wenatchee, who volunteered to take her to her appointment.
(Full-size photo)

Gregoire activates Guard units

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire is activating some National Guard units to help fight fires in Eastern Washington in what she labeled “one of the worst fire situations I can recall” during her tenure.

The activation order is part of an emergency proclamation Gregoire signed Thursday for all counties east of the Cascade Mountains. It calls for air support from the Guard to help fight fires; directs state agencies to do “everything reasonably possible” to help cities, towns and counties respond to fires and recover from them; and calls on the state Emergency Operations Center to coordinate all efforts.

Staff report

WENATCHEE – Nearly 3,000 firefighters dug lines and burned dry grass and brush in the path of several large wildfires in Eastern Washington on Thursday, aiming to better control the blazes before the weather changes and potential winds return.

Seven large complexes of fires have burned across 229 square miles of parched land east of the Cascades.

Heavy smoke covered much of the region Thursday, eroding air quality but serving as a positive sign of low winds and fires that weren’t quite so active. Firefighters hoped to take advantage of the favorable conditions before the weather shifts again.

A high pressure system in the area through Thursday was expected to lift today, and the effect is much like removing a lid from a hot pot, said Connie Mehmel, a spokeswoman for a complex of fires burning in the Wenatchee area.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters were assigned to the seven large fire complexes Thursday, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Some of those crews worked through the night Wednesday to dig fire lines, protect structures and set ablaze dry fuels that could feed the fires during the heat of day.

Near Lake Chelan, residents of 28 homes were warned to be ready to evacuate if a 20-acre wildfire grows. The fire, located about nine miles northwest of Chelan, was visible from town.

Several fires near Wenatchee together have burned across 44 square miles. No homes have been lost in any of those blazes, but residents of about 300 homes were evacuated, Mehmel said.

A fire near the community of Entiat, north of Wenatchee, was 35 percent contained, Mehmel said, but fire officials had no containment estimates for the other fires in that complex.

Near Grand Coulee Dam, two fires grew to a combined 91,883 acres, or 143 square miles. Fire officials confirmed on Wednesday that three homes and nine outbuildings had burned there. The fire was 63 percent contained late Thursday.

Another fire burning 17 miles southwest of Creston was 40 percent contained Thursday.

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