Updated 11:15 a.m.: Today fire crews will focus efforts on the northern perimeter of the Taylor Bridge Fire between Lambert Road and Hidden Valley Road and prepare for burnout operations once weather conditions become more stable. Fallers will continue work to drop dangerous trees, reducing hazards to firefighters, according to an update from incident command.

With 40 miles of fire perimeter, mop-up operations will continue for several days on the Taylor Bridge Fire. Mop-up operations include extinguishing burning material and falling snags, and patrolling and checking for hotspots.

The National Weather Service in Spokane has issue a red flag warning for continued very hot, dry and unstable conditions over the next two days. With temperatures reaching 90 to 100 degrees, fire activity is expected to increase and significant threat to structures remains a concern.

Roads that remain closed are: Hart Road at Taylor Road; Lambert Road at Taylor Road; Hidden Valley Road at Hidden Valley Terrace Road; U.S. Highway 97 at the state Route 970/Lauderdale junction; Highway 97 at Ellensburg Ranches Road; and state Route 10 at the Highway 97 junction.

Updated 7 a.m.: The Taylor Bridge Fire between Cle Elum and Ellensburg is 33 percent contained. Some people were able to return to their houses Thursday. A total of 955 personnel are fighting the blaze. The acreage is 22,787 (due to more accurate mapping).

On Thursday, some residents to reenter the northeastern portion of the fire area and parts of the Sunlight Waters community. Approximately 20,000 feet of hose has been laid in the Sunlight Waters area to aid in fire suppression and mop-up operations, according to incident commanders.

In the Hidden Valley and Bettas area, firefighters continued work to secure containment lines. Many portions of the burn area have damaged trees.  Falling crews worked to drop dangerous trees, reducing hazards to firefighters. Burn out operations took place along state Route 10 between state Route 97 junction and Swauk Creek.  Crews made progress creating a protective trail around isolated islands of unburned fuels to prevent further flare-ups.  Ground crews and air operations continued work along the Emerick Road, west of state Route 97. Firefighting effort continue to be a challenge due to the steep and rocky terrain.  

Mop-up crews patrolled and checked for hotspots west of Reecer Creek Road, and south of Lower Green Canyon.  As mop-up continues, fire crews will extinguish burning material and fall snags.  Preliminary mop-up distances will be 300 feet from the fire perimeter. Around structures 300 feet within the grasslands, and 500 feet around structures in forested areas. Mop-up standards will be dictated by fuel conditions and terrain.

Fire officials urge residents and the public reentering the fire area to use extreme caution.  Utilities and power lines may have been damaged in the fire and the public should assume the power lines could be energized causing injury or death. If you return to your home and find you do not have electricity, please report the outage to the appropriate power company: Puget Sound Energy at 1-888-225-5773 or the Kittitas County PUD at 509-933-7200.

Updated 9:45 p.m.: Smoke appeared to lessen along the northern border of the Taylor Bridge Fire, as containment reached 33 percent Thursday evening.

    Chinook helicopters assisted firefighters combat blazes in Hidden Valley northeast of Cle Elum. Lewiston County-based fire crews in the area Thursday afternoon said conditions had improved for the time being.

    Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell said the county is beginning to transition to recovery mode. He indicated the recovery would be long-term.

    "This isn't going to be over in two weeks or two months," Jewell said.

   Community meetings about the fire are planned at 4 p.m. Friday at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School and 7 p.m. at Central Washington University's SURC.

Updated 6:30 p.m.: The Taylor Bridge Fire is now listed at 33 percent contained, according to incident command. An estimated containment date is Sunday.

About 955 firefighters are working on the fire which has burned about 22,787 acres. 

Portions of state Route 10 and U.S. Highway 97 were reopened to residents today but portions in Division A and B remain closed. Beginning at noon today, some Level 3 evacuation areas — outside of the fire perimeter — had been reduced to a Level 2. The areas include the east side and the southeast edge of the fire.

The fire's growth potential has been lowered from high to medium.

Updated 6 p.m.: Wildfire in cases like this is like a tornado, said Incident Information Officer Michael Mueller. 

"Some houses have been affected, other houses next door may not have been or have been affected, that's just how it is," Mueller said during a media briefing at Walter Strom Middle School in Cle Elum this afternoon.

The Taylor Bridge Fire is still about 25 percent contained and has burned more than 22,000 acres and more than 70 homes, Mueller said. 

The weather has been fairly moderate today and the operation has had good air assets and dedicated firefighters. 

"The forecast for weather over the next few days is of concern," Mueller said.

There's the potential for hotter, drier weather and unstable atmosphere conditions could bring erratic winds, Mueller said. Plus there's still six more weeks of hot, dry weather expected. The 30-day outlook is for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

Mueller said the focus is still to get people back to their homes when it is safe to do so. The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office has let some people back to their property on the east end of the fire and the southwest corner, Mueller said. There are still places that are hot and too dangerous for people enter.

"It's a just a tough fight," Mueller said. "It's still burning and hot, making uphill runs."

He said firefighters are keeping the fire south of U.S. Highway 97. They don't want it to go north of the highway and they don't want it go across state Route 970 or west.

Dehydration is a concern for firefighters. One firefighter was treated and released for dehydration Wednesday. Another firefighter suffered minor facial burns Wednesday while attempting to leave the fire perimeter on foot after a vehicle would not start. That person was evaluated on scene and then transported to Kittitas Valley Community Hospital where he or she was treated and released.

Updated 3:25 p.m.: Evacuation levels were reduced at noon for several areas around the Taylor Bridge Fire, according to incident commanders. Along the east portion of the fire, only areas south and east of the following roads are now accessible to local traffic and residents: Cricklewood Lane (off of Highway 97), Ellensburg Ranches Road (off Highway 97) and Hayward Road (off state Route 10 and Ellensburg Ranches Road. Evacuation levels for these areas were reduced from level three to level two. A level two evacuation asks people to consider leaving the area or be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

State Route 10 is accessible to residents from Hayward Road east to the SR97 junction. In the Sunlight Waters area, Sunlight Drive and Clubhouse Drive are accessible to local residents only.

Level three evacuation notices remain in place for Lauderdale area at the state Route 970 and Highway 97 junction, Bettas Valley area, homes on the west side of Highway 97 between Highway 97 and Swauk, the Hidden Valley area, and Elk Springs Road. The Sunlight Waters area remains at a level three except for Sunlight Drive and Clubhouse Drive.

Level three means fire is in the area and people are to leave immediately. Access to the area is restricted.

Road closures include: SR97 at Elk Springs Road to Lauderdale junction, and SR10 from Taylor Road to Hayward Road. Road closures, evacuation areas and repopulation into the fire perimeter are being continuously evaluated. Utility crews are working in the eastern zone of the fire area on damaged power lines and other utilities.

Reports from the Sunlight Water's Water District are the water systems are currently down and there is no fresh water available. Crews are currently working on the system and will keep the public updated, according to the county.

Today, firefighters are focusing efforts along the Hidden Valley area to the Bettas Valley area. The fireline is within eyeshot of structures near Emerick Road, west of Highway 97. Crews continue to patrol around structures, checking for hotspots west of Reecer Creek Roadand south of Lower Green Canyon. Burnout operations will take place along state Route 10 between the 97 junction and Swauk Creek to help in reducing fuels that can potentially flare-up and burn, according to the incident commanders.

Personnel from the Kittitas County Public Works Department are working on damage assessments, and crews from Puget Sound Energy and Kittitas County Public Utility District are working on utilities in these areas.

Representatives from the American Red Cross will be moving through to assess the situation and work with residents in the areas of evacuation.

Another community meeting is planned at 7 p.m. Friday at the Central Washington University SURC in Ellensburg.

Updated 12:30 p.m.: Firefighters fighting the Taylor Bridge Fire between Cle Elum and Ellensburg are keeping a close eye on the weather, but say progress is being made.

Mick Mueller, fire information officer with the incident management team, said crews are holding their own with the 22,000-acre fire.

"I feel we are getting some large parts of the fire contained, but we still have some very difficult terrain and fire behavior conditions ahead of us," he said during a media briefing Thursday morning in Cle Elum. "(We're) very concerned about the forecasted weather. There's a potential for dry lightning and thunderstorm potential."

Mueller said firefighters are working hard to get the fire out of areas with houses.

Updated 10 a.m.: Officials with the Washington Department of Natural Resources said fire crews prevented the Taylor Bridge Fire from burning any new structures Wednesday.

“That’s always a good feeling,” Department of Natural Resources public information officer Mark Morrow said. “That’s the No. 1 thing after safety and making sure that no one is harmed.”

No new evacuation orders have been issued since Wednesday, and the fire did not grow in size overnight, though it is spreading in some areas. Official estimates of the fire’s size have been reduced, and the now they say the fire has burned about 22,000 acres. Morrow said the reduced estimates were the result of better mapping.

Morrow predicts most firefighting activity today will take place on the northwestern edge of the Taylor Bridge Fire in the Hidden Valley area.

He did not predict more evacuation orders for today but said evacuations are always possible if winds pick up or fires break loose. Any evacuations today would most likely occur on the northern edge of the fire, Morrow said.

“That’s where we’re trying to keep watch,” Morrow said.

Northwest edge

The northwestern edge of the Taylor Bridge Fire is currently burning through heavily wooded areas with lots of fuel, which when combined with winds, creates the potential for crown fires.

“That’s why we’re all clustered in that area today putting as much as we can on the fire,” Morrow said.

Fire crews were able avoid crown fires in the area Wednesday using water and fire retardant drops from aircraft.

Crews also are continuing to put out hot spots in the Sunlight Waters development near Elk Heights.

“They’re continuing to pound that area pretty good with air resources,” Morrow said, but he emphasized the majority of today’s activity will take place north of that area.

Morrow said fire bosses have been encouraged by gains made in the last 24 to 36 hours, and hope favorable weather conditions today could lead to even more progress. Containment of the blaze remains at 25 percent.

About 900 firefighters are fighting the Taylor Bridge Fire. The fire has not jumped I-90, and state Route 970 from Cle Elum to U.S. Highway 97 at the Lauderdale junction remains open.

Updated 7 a.m.: Firefighters battling the Taylor Bridge Fire on Wednesday said the days are long, but they are making progress.

“It's dusty, it's smoky,” said Kevin Weed of Glacier Peak Wildfire, a private company based in Wenatchee, said during a shift exchange at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School. “I wouldn't say there is panic, but it's definitely tiring.”

Weed and Ryan Bacharach of Glacier Peak Wildfire spent Wednesday protecting homes and structures, assisting bulldozers clear a fire line, hand digging a fire line, and looking out for spot fires.

“This is the biggest fire I've been on,” said Weed, who has been fighting wildfires for five seasons. “Every fire has its dangers, but the command staff does a good job of mitigating them for us.”

Bacharach said it can be hard to tell from the ground what the overall picture looks like, but he felt they made good progress on Wednesday.

“There is a lot of good work going on out there,” he said. “Nobody is slacking.”

Updated 6:15 a.m.: Truckloads of supplies for fire victims and firefighters flowed into Ellensburg and Cle Elum on Wednesday as the Taylor Bridge Fire continued to burn between the communities.

Donations are being accepted at the Holiday Inn Express, the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce and a number of local businesses. While both the hotel and the chamber continue to serve as collection points, items were moved to an empty store front on 421 Main St. between Morelli's Cafe and the Recycle Bike Shop for pick up.

A line of cars stretched the length of the back alley Wednesday afternoon while volunteers quickly transported donations into the building.

Volunteer Paula Denlinger said that donations can be still be left at the Holiday Inn, but that they will be transported to the new location where she encouraged people to start bringing donations.

"It was overwhelming down there," she said about the situation at the Holiday Inn. "They're still trying to operate a business down there."

Volunteers on Main Street rearranged clothing racks, flats of bottled water and boxes that overflowed with donations.

Denlinger said volunteers were trying to get as much organized as quickly as possible.

Denlinger stressed that victims should come to the new location to pick up donations rather than the Holiday Inn, but that people could still drop them off at either location.

The Chamber of Commerce at Seventh Avenue and Main Street said the most pressing needs are cash or check donations to the Red Cross, veterinarian medical supplies, gas cards for volunteer drivers and non-perishable food items. The chamber requested no furniture or household goods, at least right now.

People in need of assistance were encouraged to contact the Red Cross.

The chamber's hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Sahaptin Outfitters in Cle Elum was collecting supplies for firefighters Wednesday, but the fire incident commanders said later in the day they were overwhelmed with donations, and firefighters are fully supported by the command team. They suggested donations go to the food bank, Red Cross and others in need.

Updated 8:45 p.m.: CLE ELUM (AP) — Hundreds of firefighters employed every weapon they had Wednesday to battle a stubborn wildfire east of the Cascades that has destroyed dozens of homes across roughly 35 square miles.

Helicopters made regular drops of water on hot spots. Firefighters dug lines with hand tools and bulldozers, and cleared wood piles and dry brush from around homes to protect them.

And at the fire's troublesome north flank, where massive plumes of smoke soared skyward, heavy tankers repeatedly dropped retardant on thick stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir — some of the heavy timber that fire crews had hoped to keep the Taylor Bridge Fire from reaching.

New evacuations were ordered Wednesday evening on the north flank, fire spokesman Glenn Kohler said. He didn't know how many people were affected. Hundreds have already left their homes.

In better news, fire management officials said the fire is now 25 percent contained, up from 10 percent.

Since Monday, the fire has burned across more than 22,000 acres of tinder-dry grass, sagebrush and timber in rural areas east of Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

More than 800 people are working to suppress the blaze. Kohler said one firefighter suffered a minor facial burn.

Authorities say at least 60 primary residences have been destroyed, but conditions are still too dangerous to come up with an exact count.

Retirees Dave and Jan Stambaugh eyed the massive fire behind their home warily Wednesday, as they loaded treasured artwork into their cars.

"It's one thing about the house, but my yard, oh my garden," Stambaugh said, pointing to her lush new landscaping with ponds, shrubs, stepping stones and a putting green. "Do you think it'll make it?"

Next door, 81-year-old Joanne Blanchard wondered the same thing after stuffing her trunk with photo albums.

The acreage estimate was down from earlier estimates of about 28,000 acres, due to more accurate mapping, according to incident commander Rex Reed. Reed also said conditions were still too dangerous to get an exact count on the number of homes burned, but confirmed at least 60 homes had been destroyed.

The Kittitas County sheriff also has said that at least 10 additional homes had burned in a subdivision on the southeast corner of the blaze.

"Frankly it's not safe yet to get to the interior of the fire," Reed said.

Updated: 6:30 p.m.: Firefighters are five to seven days away from full containment on the Taylor Bridge Fire, Incident Commander Rex Reed said during a community meeting at the Cle Elum Roslyn High School on Wednesday afternoon.

Estimates were revised this afternoon that the fire has covered 22,000 acres between Cle Elum and Ellensburg, he said. By the end of the day, 900 firefighters will be fighting the blaze, with three heavy air tankers, helicopters and 12 bulldozers working the line.

"This is a priority fire in the Northwest," Reed said.

Lauderdale is under an evacuation order. Liberty is under a level 1 notice. Fire District 7 reported a firefighter suffered minor facial burns while working in the Sunlight Waters development today.

Reed said there's still a major firefight in Sunlight Waters.

"We have the best of the best in the suppression effort. We are doing our darnedest to get this thing contained," he said.

Evacuation levels:

Level 3: The fire is in the area, people are to leave immediately. Access to the area is restricted.

Level 2: Consider leaving the area, or be ready to leave at a moment’s notice due to the high possibility of the fire reaching the area. Access back into the area may be limited.

Level 1: Initial notification in person to inform the residents of the situation, and the process which may follow. 

Updated 3:30 p.m.: To report damage from the Taylor Bridge Fire, contact the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office at 509-962-7578 or submit a damage report online at www.co.kittitas.wa.us under the Emergency: Taylor Bridge Wildfire Link.

Forms will be available at community meetings at 4 p.m. at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School and at 7 p.m. at Central Washington University's SURC. Completed forms should be returned to the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office.

Updated 12:30 p.m.: Firefighters are optimistic about efforts to curtail the Taylor Bridge Fire burning between Cle Elum and Ellensburg.

Incident Commander Rex Reed said cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity are good for firefighting efforts, and there was less fire activity Tuesday night than Monday.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we might be in the 25 percent (containment) range by end of business today," he said Wednesday morning in Cle Elum. "We have National Guard air support, heavy air tankers, as well as significant rotary aircraft from civilian world."

Today, firefighters will focus efforts on the Sunlight Waters area along the southwest perimeter of the fire, along the northern perimeter in the Hidden Valley area, and north of the wind farms where additional structures are located.  Fire activity is expected to be lighter with some interior burning and torching in the unburned island within the perimeter.

Approximately 800 firefighters are now assigned to the fire.  New air resources will be working along the northern border dropping water along the perimeter where access by the fire crews is difficult.  Retardant drops in specific areas of the fire also are planned.

Level 3 evacuation orders remain in place for the following areas: Bettas Valley, and homes on the west side of Highway 97 between 97 and Swauk. Additional evacuations are now in place for Sunlight Waters, the Hidden Valley area, and from Elk Springs Road east to Robbins Road.  Road closures include: SR97 at SR10 to Lauderdale Junction, SR10 from Taylor Road to SR97 Junction. Road closures, evacuation areas and allowing people back into the fire perimeter will be evaluated at 5 p.m. today.

Reed said people need to stay out of the fire area.

"There area lots of hazards out there," he said. "Power lines down ... people need to abide by road closure and evacuation orders.

Community meetings are planned at 4 p.m. at the Cle Elum-Roslyn High School gymnasium and at 7 p.m. at the CWU SURC building in Ellensburg.

Updated 10 a.m.: More than 70 homes have been lost and more than 28,000 acres have burned in the Taylor Bridge Fire between Cle Elum and Ellensburg. No injuries have been reported.

The fire is 10 percent contained, according to an update from DNR spokesman Matt Comisky this morning.

The fire started at about 1 p.m. Monday near a construction site at the bridge at Taylor Road on state Route 10 just east of Cle Elum. Fire officials have not confirmed the cause of the fire.

The blaze traveled northeast into the timber, up over Lookout Mountain and east across Bettas Road and U.S. Highway 97 all the way to north of Ellensburg. The fire jumped state Route 10 and the Yakima River in two places, reaching the Sunlight Waters development between the river and Interstate 90. At least 10 houses in Sunlight Waters have been lost, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon. Roughly 900 people have evacuated houses in or near the fire zone. An estimated 45 square miles have burned.

The threat level for residents in north Ellensburg in the city limits is low at this time, the sheriff’s office said.

State Route 10 and U.S. Highway 97 (from Ellensburg to the Lauderdale junction) are closed, as well as many county roads in between. Law enforcement and emergency personnel working on the Taylor Bridge Fire ask that people stay away from the fire zone and off closed roads. It is too dangerous and hinders their ability to fight the fire and help evacuate people.

During a Tuesday night news conference in Cle Elum, DNR incident commander Rex Reed said the No. 1 priority is to protect life and property.

Comisky said as of this morning there were about 800 firefighters from Washington and one air tanker from Canada working to stop the blaze.

The focus for today will be in the Hidden Valley and Sunlight Waters areas and at the wind farm. DNR was hoping to have another update on the number of houses lost late this morning, Comisky said.

The Kittitas Board of County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency on Monday. The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office activated its emergency operations center (933-8305) where about eight people were answering all types of calls Tuesday afternoon.

Red Cross

Local Red Cross volunteer Jenny Carkner was among the volunteers and law enforcement personnel taking calls about animals, telling people who want to volunteer where they’re most needed, and talking to people who are worried about family members who live in the fire zone.

Carkner said mental health professionals are providing their services to people who have lost houses and animals.

She said the community response to the Taylor Bridge Fire disaster is overwhelmingly positive.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Carkner said. It’s why people live in this community, she said.

More volunteers will be needed in the coming days, but for now, Carkner said they’re still waiting to see how many homes are destroyed.

“Some people don’t know if they’ve lost their home,” Carkner said. “People are calling to see whether their house has been destroyed. It’s bad.”

It’s a big operation but not a lot of manpower is needed just yet. Soon people will be needed to help clean up and salvage items.

Firefighters

 The Office of the State Fire Marshal mobilized state fire assistance for the Taylor Bridge Fire Monday afternoon at the request of Kittitas County Fire District 7. By Tuesday morning the Taylor Bridge Fire transitioned from local resources to a Type II Washington Interagency Incident Management Team. Local fire districts and many local volunteer firefighters are still fighting the blaze. At least 800 personnel from throughout the state, including more than 140 inmates from the state Department of Corrections, were on the scene as of 8 a.m. today, according to incident command.

By late Tuesday morning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Taylor Bridge Fire. The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of Washington eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.

The grant provides reimbursement for firefighting and life-saving efforts, not assistance to individuals, homeowners or business owners. The money also does not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire, according to a news release.

State of emergency

A state of emergency was proclaimed for Kittitas and Yakima counties Tuesday afternoon to make available additional resources to fight the fire. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen signed the proclamation (due to his status as acting governor when Gov. Chris Gregoire is out of the state). The proclamation was in response to a request from the state Department of Natural Resources. DNR requested air support from the Washington National Guard.

Yakima County declared a Stage 1 burn ban due to residual smoke originating from the wildfire in Kittitas County.

Gregoire, in a statement, said the Taylor Bridge Fire is a priority. The proclamation directs state agencies “to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions in an effort to respond to and recovery from” the events in Kittitas and Yakima counties.

During Tuesday night’s news conference, Reed said they will work to get people back to their homes as soon as it is safe to do so.

Nancy Jones, a spokeswoman for the Cle Elum Ranger District in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said the ranger district is open for recreation. Jones said there is a burn ban in effect, meaning no recreational wood or charcoal fires are permitted, including in the developed campgrounds. Gas barbecues and stoves are allowed under the burn ban, Jones said.

People with plans to visit the Table Mountain area may want to make other plans, she said. Salmon la Sac and other areas northwest of Cle Elum are open and unaffected by the fire, Jones said.

“The key part for us right now is we don’t need any more fires on the ground,” Reed said. “When this fire started yesterday, it was the third fire that we had in about a 90-minute period, so what we really need is folks to be extremely careful.”

Managing Editor, Daily Record

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