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County declares state of emergency, adds to evacuation zones due to fire

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Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 10:09 am | Updated: 11:45 am, Wed Jul 31, 2013.

Updated 5:30 p.m.: The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office has added additional areas to evacuation zones in response to the Colockum Tarps Fire, including areas along the Kittitas County side of the Columbia River from the northern county line to the southern edge of Scammon Landing and the Skookumchuck River, north of Vantage.

The recreation areas along the river in the evacuation zone have been closed, and anyone in those areas is advised to leave.

An additional level two evacuation notice is in place at the Wild Horse Wind Farm. The Renewable Energy Center is closed to the public, and workers have been advised to be ready to flee.

The Whisky Dick Wildlife area has also been closed.

Preliminary evacuation notices remain in place for Colockum Pass Road north of the end of the pavement, Trail Creek Road, Sheep Creek Road, Tucker Creek Road, Secret Canyon Road, Ryegrass Ranches Road and Parke Creek Road north of the end of the pavement, including Hilltop Loop.


Updated 3:30 p.m.:  Kittitas County commissioners declared an emergency on Tuesday because of the Colockum Tarps fire. Commissioners heard an update from the county Sheriff's Office on Tuesday afternoon. The fire was described as "extremely active" as it continues to move south as well as upslope to the west. The resolution activates the county's emergency plan.

The Colockum Tarps Fire has burned across more than 73 square miles of grass, sagebrush and timber southeast of Wenatchee in the Colockum Pass area. The fire was 5 percent contained, but the flames spread rapidly Tuesday, churning through dry fuels to the south, fire spokesman Peter Frenzen told the Associated Press.

Residents of about 60 homes have been evacuated. Authorities were reviewing evacuation levels in some areas, particularly on the north end of the blaze, to see if some people could return home.

However, Frenzen said, authorities in Kittitas County were considering additional evacuations at recreation areas along the Columbia River as a precaution. Fire crews were focusing on protecting power lines, recreation areas, wind farms and some scattered homes south of the fire, he said.

Thunderstorms forecast for much of Eastern Washington later this week also are raising fears about high winds and lightning, which could spark even more fires.

"The winds and the thunderstorms are a concern, but on the plus side, we're also looking at the possibility of some moisture by Thursday," Frenzen said.


Updated 10 a.m.: No structures have been lost, nor are any threatened, in Kittitas County, but the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office has preliminary evacuation notifications in place for the Colockum Tarps Fire in the county’s eastern corner.

The fire started near the intersection of Colockum Road and Tarpiscan Road south of Malaga in Chelan County at about 8 a.m. Saturday.

The fire was estimated at 66 square miles this morning, up from more than 24 square miles Monday. Evacuation notices were issued to 60 homes and cabins in Chelan County. Three homes and several outbuildings have been lost.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The sheriff’s office issued level two notices for Colockum Pass Road north of the end of the pavement, Trail Creek Road, Sheep Creek Road, Tucker Creek Road, Secret Canyon Road, Ryegrass Ranches Road and Parke Creek Road north of the end of the pavement, including Hilltop Loop.

For level two notices, residents should prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.

The fire in Kittitas County is mostly on state Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife managed land.

The fire is 5 percent contained. Karen Ripley, spokeswoman for the incident command team, said firefighters had the most success on the northeast side of the fire near the Columbia River on Monday.

Much of that edge of the fire was burning in grass, easing crews’ efforts to stem its spread, she said Monday. On the northwest side, firefighters were still working to put in control lines.

On the south end, in Kittitas County, helicopters overhead and firefighters on the ground worked to more accurately size up the fire so managers could formulate a plan.

Ripley told the Associated Press on Monday afternoon that fire officials are working on a plan to stop the fire at a ridge north of the Wild Horse wind farm.

Puget Sound Energy officials this morning said the wildfire has not reached or damaged PSE high-voltage power lines that go through Colockum Pass and into Kittitas County more than 17 miles northeast of Ellensburg. PSE crews continue to monitor the fire closely in connection with power line infrastructure that carries electricity generated at Rocky Reach Dam.

PSE spokesman Brian Lenz said reports he received late Monday indicated the fire was about eight miles northeast of the wind farm’s northern boundary,which is about eight miles north of Vantage Highway. The center is about 19 miles east of Ellensburg.

It was difficult to estimate its distance as of this morning, he said.

Lenz said the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility visitor center continues to be open to the public this morning, and he could see the fire’s spreading plume. He added PSE personnel have plans in place if evacuation of the center is ordered.

The fire has been burning through grass and brush, especially on the south side, and up through timber in draws and into continuous forests at higher elevation.

Monday’s forecasted winds at the fire called for a complex combination of northeast and northwesterly winds along with winds trending upslope in the morning and downslope later in the day.

“There’s also lot of idiosyncrasies in those canyons just because of the different land forms,” Ripley said.

Today’s forecast calls for lighter wind, incident management team spokesman Jeff Sevigney said this morning, but winds from possible thunderstorms later this week may exacerbate the fire’s growth.

Planners met Monday afternoon to determine the next step for attacking the fire’s southern edge.

Contingencies included containing the fire along Brushy Creek or dropping back to try holding it on Quilomene Ridge Road.

“Some of that depends on what they can figure out tonight and what happens to the fire tonight,” Ripley said.

Sevigney said this morning there was little growth in the fire overnight, and much of the fire’s growth yesterday was on the southern edge.

Three hotshot crews are en route to the fire for use on the southern flank.

“That’s the most difficult area to get into,” he said.

Road closures

The following roads are closed to public access: Colockum Road at the end of the pavement, Schnebly Canyon Road at the green gate (at the intersection of Fairview and Thomas Roads), Parke Creek Road at the end of the county road, Coleman Canyon Road at the end of the county road, and Cooke Canyon Road at the end of the county road.

A level 1 evacuation notification (be prepared to leave) was in place from Lower Colockum to Parke Creek.

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