Updated 7:45 a.m.: Shifting winds and lower temperatures aided firefighters working on the Colockum Tarps Fire on Wednesday night.
Cooke Canyon residents were allowed to return home Thursday morning, according to the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office. The Colockum, Parke Creek, Secret Valley and Caribou Canyons are still closed.
The sheriff's office reported it did not have any confirmation of structure loss.
Update 7:30 p.m.: At last count, the Colockum Tarps Fire has grown to more than 66,000 acres — 103 square miles — and firefighters were conducting structure protection operations in the Secret Canyon, Parke Creek, Cook Canyon and Coleman Canyon areas.
A spokesman for the fire’s incident management team said intense smoke and flame forced firefighters in the Parke Creek area to withdraw, and it’s unclear if any structures were damaged.
The smoke also obscured efforts to assess the fire’s growth and direction, said fire information officer Peter Frenzen, but planners hoped an infra-red camera flight over the fire this evening will offer helpful information.
The evacuation area covers 100 structures, including primary homes and recreational property. The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office reported that 71 people have evacuated, while others have opted to stay in place. A Red Cross emergency shelter is set up at Mercer Creek Church.
The animal shelter at the fairgrounds has eight animals staying on site — five goats, two horses, and one chicken. The shelter was expecting two additional horses this evening.
A public meeting is planned at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Central Washington University SURC ballroom in Ellensburg. Representatives from the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center and the Washington Incident Management Team 4 will give a fire update and answer questions.
Plans are in motion to set up a secondary fire camp in Kittitas County.
Update 1:40 p.m.: The following areas are now at a Level 3 notice and residents are advised to evacuate immediately: the area north of the intersection of Christensen Road and Parke Creek Road, northwest to the intersection of Cooke Canyon Road and Gage Road, and Cooke Canyon Road north of Gage Road, according to the Kittitas County Emergency Operation Center.
The Wild Horse Wind Farm and the Vantage boat launch and parking area are closed to the public.
A Level 2 Evacuation notice (be prepared to leave at a moment's notice) is in place for residences on the north side of Vantage Highway east of the Operating Engineers’ Training Facility to the wind farm boundary.
Update 12:30 p.m.: The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office has given a level one evacuation notice — meaning residents should be aware they may have to evacuate if conditions change — for the area north of the intersection of Christensen and Parke Creek roads northwest to the intersection of Cooke Canyon and Gage roads and Cooke Canyon Road north of Gage Road.
The Colockum Tarps Fire has burned far enough to prompt evacuation notices in parts of Kittitas County, and sheriff’s deputies were working to notify and assist residents this morning.
A level three evacuation notice is in place for Upper Parke Creek, Secret Canyon, Hill Top, upper sections of Little Caribou, Sheep Creek and Trail Creek. A level three notice means residents should leave immediately.
The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office asks people in need of shelter to come to the office at 307 W. Umptanum Road or call 509-925-8534.
It’s also asking anyone from the evacuation area who will be staying with family or friends to provide contact information to the Emergency Operations Center at 509-933-8305 so staff can provide updates.
The notice covers 75 structures, including 20-25 primary residences.
The fire, which has grown to almost 60,000 acres, or 93 square miles, prompted the county Board of Commissioners to declare a state of emergency Tuesday in the county.
The fire started in Chelan County Saturday. The fire is 8 percent contained, and its cause is under investigation.
Level three evacuation notices added Tuesday include 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 Creek 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.
“The fire had burned all the way to the river in quite a few of those areas,” Kittitas County Undersheriff Clay Myers said.
A level two evacuation notice (be ready to leave) 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 leave.
The Whisky Dick Wildlife area is closed. The Columbia River is open to recreation, but the sheriff’s office recommends boaters use caution and be aware of helicopters in the area.
Level two 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.
There have been no reports of structure loss in Kittitas County, but three or four homes have burned in Chelan County.
Myers said the county is working on contingency plans for possible closures over the weekend.
Thousands of people are expected to turn out for the Watershed Festival, a big country music concert, at the Gorge Amphitheater this weekend, Myers said.
“As a rule, Quiloqueme Bay has anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people there, especially on a big weekend,” he said. “It’s going to impact a lot of the recreation.”
The fire incident management team has started to move resources from the Chelan County side to the Kittitas County side of the fire. Myers is optimistic firefighters will start getting a better handle on the blaze within a few days.
The fire has moved the farthest on its southern end, burning in grass and brush and pushed along by north winds through the Columbia River, incident management team spokeswoman Mary Ellen Fitzgerald said Tuesday afternoon.
The fire is also active along the west flank, where it made its way into heavier fuel among the timber at higher elevations.
“It isn’t moving as fast there,” Fitzgerald said.
The fuel isn’t especially continuous, leaving the fire to slowly move up wooded drainages.
Much of Tuesday’s suppression action came from above, with single-engine air tankers making drops to slow the fire’s spread on the south end and a heavy Chinook helicopter dumping on the fire’s west flank.
The air show will continue today, with four heavy air tankers ordered and en route to back up multiple helicopters and two single-engine tankers assisting with suppression and reconnaissance, said spokeswoman Linden Lampman this morning.
Air resources will “be focusing a lot on the southeastern edge, and on the western edge, too, as it approaches the wind farm and more populated areas and timber,” she said.
Roughly 400 people are on the ground fighting the fire.
About four bulldozers have been building fire lines on the southwest side and 87 firefighters, including two hotshot crews that arrived Tuesday, camped out on the lower end of the fire overnight and will start cutting line and scouting the fire today.
“What they’re talking about is building an anchor point from the northern part down to the southern part,” Lampman said.
Two strike teams of engines and crews are also on structure protection patrol on the southwest side of the fire, she said.
Changing weather today and through the week may help or hinder firefighting efforts, she said.
Thunderstorms may mean gusty, unpredictable winds, which are already complicated to work with in the draws and drainages around Colockum Pass.
Also, a fire weather watch is in effect for much of Central Washington for possible abundant lightning starting new fires in dried fuels around the region.
Overnight humidity recovery has improved over the week, Lampman said, which can take some of the edge off the fire’s overnight growth.
While forecasted storms may start with dry lightning, they are forecast to transition into wetter storms on Thursday.
“They’re expecting on the ground that it could be somewhat erratic,” Lampman said. “They’re hoping that there may be some precipitation.”