GOLDENDALE — Hot weather, rugged terrain and a dry forest are fueling a 1,600-acre wildland fire that firefighters fear has the potential to get much larger.
“The weather is considered extremely hazardous, and (firefighters) expect the fire to grow in size,” said Ed Powell, emergency management director for Klickitat County, which declared a state of emergency Wednesday.
Thursday’s high of 102 degrees in Yakima set a record; today’s forecast is slightly cooler: just 96 degrees.
About 100 firefighters were on the scene Thursday of what’s now called the Mile Marker 28 Fire. The number of firefighters is expected to double today.
The fire, which was first reported late Wednesday morning, kept Highway 97 closed for a second day and prompted the evacuation of an area immediately south of Satus Pass.
There are about 100 buildings in the evacuation area, but it was not immediately known how many of those are homes, said fire information officer Josie Williams.
Officials at an emergency shelter in Goldendale said about a dozen people showed up at one point, but nearly all found lodging elsewhere.
The state Department of Transportation this morning will reassess whether to reopen Highway 97, which was ordered closed after being hit by heavy smoke, flames and debris rolling from hillsides.
The fire is burning in steep, rugged, remote forest lands near 3,107-foot elevation Satus Pass. Much of the fire is along the southern border of the Yakama reservation, but it has spread into nearby public and private property, fire officials said.
No buildings have been reported damaged, nor have any injuries been reported. Cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Much of Thursday was spent assessing the fire, identifying escape routes where ground crews will be sent, and determining what kind of manpower and equipment will be needed, incident commander Nathan Rabe said at a command post set up on the Goldendale High School grounds.
At least four helicopters are expected today, three for dropping water and a fourth for observation.
Crews will be digging fire lines today and taking active measures to protect buildings and power lines, Rabe said.
Weather, however, could complicate those efforts.
For days, the National Weather Service has been warning that warm temperatures and winds, coupled with dry fuels, could cause any fire to spread rapidly.
On Thursday, the Weather Service issued red flag warnings about the fire danger in Yakima, Klickitat and Kittitas counties.
Two other large fires are burning on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon: the 47,153-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire and the 330-acre Stagecoach Fire. Both are rated 40 percent contained. The Mile Marker 28 Fire at Satus Pass is at zero containment.
Klickitat County’s state of emergency was declared about noon in order to facilitate getting extra help.
“We are running out of resources and will need some from around the state,” Powell said.
Because the fire is believed to have started on the Yakama reservation, responsibility for overseeing firefighting operations rested originally with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. But that transferred at noon to a state incident command team.
A temporary shelter has been set up by the American Red Cross at Our Father’s House Fellowship, 207 S. Klickitat St. in Goldendale. About a dozen people arrived at the shelter late Wednesday, but only a few remained Thursday.
While the fire was roughly 12 miles west of Bickleton, a tiny unincorporated town high in the Horse Heaven Hills, its effects were more than just smoke and a little ash.
A significant number of motorists seeking a way around the closure of Highway 97 — which normally sees about 3,500 cars and trucks per day — opted for a long, steep and curving route between Mabton and Goldendale, which took them through downtown Bickleton.
Traffic was so heavy and enough drivers were confused that the Washington State Patrol had to dispatch a trooper to control traffic for much of the day, according to Jennifer Wilson, owner of the Bickleton Market Street Cafe.
At one point, three cars passed a semi-truck and trailer on the town’s small main street, she said.
• City Editor Craig Troianello contributed to this report.