ELLENSBURG - A growing 480-acre fire 14 miles southwest of Ellensburg on the other side of Manastash Ridge nearly doubled in size overnight as a potentially windy afternoon could make conditions worse for the more than 130 firefighters battling the blaze.

Smoke from the fire is creating a gray haze in the Kittitas Valley as the fire moves slowly west fueled by dry grass and ponderosa pine.

Firefighters from Washington Department of Natural Resources, local fire districts and the U.S. Forest Service are on site with the help of a dozen engines, three helicopters and two bulldozers.

Containment was at 35 percent as of 9 a.m. today, DNR spokesperson Gary Berndt said, and for now, no structures are threatened by the blaze.

"We're anticipating the potential for increased winds late this afternoon, which could become problematic to have this thing jump the fireline," Berndt said.

The weather forecast calls for winds of 5-6 mph today, but winds could increase to 20 mph by Wednesday.

Several homes are located about 1 1/2 miles East of the fire in dry brush-type terrain, and officials are concerned the fire could jump the fire line and move quickly toward those dwellings if it hits the dry fuels surrounding them. As of this morning no evacuations had been ordered.

"If this thing breaks out in those light fuels," Berndt said. "It can run a long ways. It's easily a mile an hour."

This is the county's second significant wildfire this summer. The first occurred Aug. 2 when a fatal helicopter crash and fire sparked a 500-acre blaze near Easton. But fire crews, with the help of favorable weather conditions, were able to extinguish it within a few days.

Monday's light wind made conditions ideal for knocking down the fire, but weather predictions for tonight and Wednesday appear less than favorable for fire crews.

Kittitas County Public Health released a forest fire smoke advisory this morning calling current conditions "Good." However, individuals with pre-existing lung conditions, asthma or anyone prone to breathing difficulty should limit outdoor activity, the release advised.

"Good conditions do not typically adversely affect the general population," Sara Burnet, public health spokesperson wrote in the release.

The fire was reported Monday at approximately 10:30 a.m. by local residents and the Department of Fish & Wildlife, according to Incident Commander Rex Reed.

Reed believes the fire originated mere yards west off Observatory Road, nine miles up Umptanum Road, in dry brush and quickly spread up a hill where it reached scattered pine trees. Approximately five hours after the fire was sparked, it had spread close to a mile west from Observatory Road.

Cause of the fire is under investigation at this point, but officials believe it was human-caused.

The land is a combination of school trust and private property, Reed said.

Berndt has heard expressed concern from residents in the Manastash area, but is assuring them Manastash is not in the current line of spread.

With hunters in remote areas of Kittitas Valley and fuels still bone dry, Berndt encourages caution when recreating in the woods to prevent additional fires.


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