By David Ryder
WENATCHEE, Wash. (Reuters) - Families whose homes were destroyed in a massive grassland wildfire in Washington state were allowed to return to their residences on Tuesday, as firefighters fought to contain the virtually unchecked blaze, officials said.
Fueled by triple digit temperatures and gusting winds, the so-called Sleepy Hollow fire has scorched nearly 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of rolling grasslands and brush around the city of Wenatchee since it erupted on a parched central Washington hillside on Sunday. The blaze was just 10 percent contained.
At least 24 residences were destroyed or severely damaged on the north end of the city of some 30,000 residents, as were four downtown businesses including a recycling plant, an agricultural chemical distributor and two packing plants, said Kay McKellar, a fire management team spokeswoman.
Several hundred homes remained under evacuation orders on Tuesday in the broader Wenatchee area, though those orders were expected to be lifted later in the day, McKellar said.
Meanwhile, residents and family members of the portion of the city where homes where burned were allowed to return through guarded checkpoints to assess damage and gather belongings, McKellar said.
"I don't even have a fork or a plate or clothing," resident Diane Reed, who lost her home in the blaze, told local broadcaster KOMO. "Just the basic things you take for granted. It's just gone."
Washington experienced its worst wildfire season on record last year, with the Carlton Complex fires blackening 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares). It has tallied more than 300 wildfires so far this year, according to the Natural Resources Department.
The Sleepy Hollow blaze is one of dozens of large wildfires flaring across the western United States, including some 27 in Alaska alone, where 395,841 acres (160,191 hectares) have burned, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler)