WENATCHEE, Wash. — Kittitas County Commissioners declared a state of emergency Tuesday because of the Colockum Tarps wildfire. Neighbors prepared for thunderstorms that could spark even more fires.
The Colockum Tarps Fire and the Mile Marker 28 Fire combined have burned 100 square miles, which is the equivalent to 84,800 football fields.
The National Weather Service also issued a red-flag warning for extreme weather conditions with the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning that could spark new fires east of the Cascades, beginning Tuesday evening and continuing through Thursday.
Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark banned all outdoor fires on lands protected by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Colockum Tarps Fire
Nearly 1,700 firefighters were working to control two wildfires already burning, including a fire that has destroyed three homes and several outbuildings.
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 said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the fire burning in Chelan and Kittitas counties.
Kittitas County commissioners declared an emergency Tuesday because of the flames.
Residents of about 60 homes have been evacuated.
More than 340 firefighters were focused on protecting power lines, recreation areas, wind farms and some scattered homes south of the fire, Frenzen said.
The potential for thunderstorms 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.
Dry brush and grasses and moderate winds were fueling the blaze. A so-called scoop plane, which flies low to scoop up water, and an air tanker were dropping water and retardant on the fire.
The fire started Saturday. The cause was under investigation.
Mile Marker 28 Fire
Further south, about 1,345 firefighters were working to control a fire that has burned across 35 square miles around Satus Pass and closed Highway 97 between Goldendale and Toppenish.
The fire was 40 percent contained Tuesday. Evacuation levels were lowered for residents of 69 homes on the fire's sound end, allowing them to return home, said Bruce Livingston, a Washington Department of Natural Resources spokesman.
A containment line was established most of the way across the southern and western end of the fire, Livingston said, and crews were focusing on the eastern edge of the blaze.
The fire ignited last Wednesday and the cause was under investigation.
Highway 97 Remains Closed
Crews are making progress on the Mile Marker 28 Fire, but part of Highway 97 is still closed. Businesses that rely on the traffic are paying the price.
This emptiness is an unwelcome sight to businesses along Highway 97. The shutdown from Toppenish to Goldendale has been costing them money for almost a week.
"It's the slowest we've seen it probably in about quite awhile, a month or two," said Dad’s Family Restaurant manager Victoria Owens.
"Last week we had the slowest day and I've been going on 40 years of being here and that's the worst day I've ever had," said Branding Iron Restaurant owner Nola Tabayoyon.
Nola Tabayoyon owns the Branding Iron Restaurant. She said her business is hanging by a thread and can't handle Highway 97 staying closed for too much longer.
The Branding Iron Restaurant owner told Action News they've been losing anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 each day on weekends and that's money they're counting on to pay their bills.
"Everyday counts in this type of business,” said Nola. “You need every bit of income you can to pay your overhead."
Highway 97 hasn't been her only problem. Nola said construction in the area has also hurt her business. It's the same story at Dad's Family Restaurant. Employees are used to seeing the place packed during lunch hour.
"We're the main junction between 82 and 97 so we don't have the truck drivers, we don't have the travelers," said Victoria.
Local businesses damaged by a fire without being touched by the flames. And, hoping to see cars back on the highway soon.
The state can't say when Highway 97 will reopen. The shut-down will last until the fire threat is gone.
KIMA reporter Ada Chong contributed to this report