Firefighters gain ground on Washington state wildfire

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 13, 2015 3:36 PM

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Firefighters gained more ground on Monday against a lightning-sparked wildfire raging for a fourth day in north-central Washington state that continued to threaten about two dozen homes, though officials said they hoped to lift evacuation orders later in the day.

The so-called Douglas County Complex blaze has charred some 22,000 acres (90 square km) since erupting on Friday in grass- and brush-covered hills some 20 miles (32 km) east of Wenatchee, fire command spokesman Jeff Sevigney said.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping aircraft were battling to keep the blaze in check. As of Monday, 55 percent of the fire was contained, up from 10 percent a day earlier, when its footprint was slightly smaller at nearly 20,000 acres (80 square km).

"We definitely benefited from better weather conditions yesterday and into today: cooler temperatures, humidity is up and we have not had any gale-force winds," Sevigney said.

No injuries or property losses have been reported so far, though 27 dwellings and 30 other buildings were listed as threatened, Sevigney said.

About 100 people were ordered to leave their homes over the weekend, though officials said they hoped to allow residents to begin returning Monday afternoon.

The Red Cross closed an emergency shelter it opened for evacuees at a high school in the town of Ephrata, south of the fire zone, due to lack of use.

The blaze grew out of five separate fires that were sparked by lightning and later merged into a larger conflagration burning on the outskirts of the community of Waterville, east of the Cascades mountain range.

Its wind-propelled flames made "numerous runs" through dry terrain over the weekend, but fire crews managed to keep homes and other buildings protected, Sevigney said.

The Douglas County fire zone is located about 20 miles (32 km) east of the city of Wenatchee, where a blaze last month destroyed or badly damaged two dozen residences.

Several smaller wildfires were burning elsewhere across the state this week.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Steve Gorman)