The Mile Marker 28 Fire on Satus Pass was 91 percent contained Sunday night, while the Colockum Tarps Fire in Chelan and Kittitas counties was 60 percent contained, officials said.
Fire officials are optimistic about the days to come.
The Colockum Tarps Fire has burned through 80,400 acres, but personnel has been reduced to about 780 firefighters, down from a peak of 830 a few days ago. That number should continue to drop later this week as state mobilization wraps up, leaving local agencies in control.
Still of concern to firefighters in Kittitas County are the areas north and west of wind turbines, where the fire is closest to homes. The only structures destroyed in Kittitas County have been three outbuildings, officials said.
“The last couple days, haven’t seen much fire activity due to the weather, which has really helped us out — favorable winds and cooler temperatures have really helped us out, as well as the good work being done on the ground,” said fire information officer Jeff Sevigney on Sunday afternoon.
Approximately 30 miles of fire line has been constructed. Over the next couple of days, crews will focus on burnout operations along a troublesome 4.5-mile stretch on the west flank of the fire, northeast of Kittitas, where significant amounts of fuel remain unburned.
“Line construction has been very difficult due to the terrain; very steep areas,” Sevigney said. “What they’re working on is moving our line more to the west, and then conducting burnout operations in those areas to tighten up the line and get all that fuel.”
Fire officials are waiting for the weather to get warmer and drier — which sounds counterintuitive with a massive wildfire. But Sevigney said the unburned fuel in that area is still too wet to effectively burn out.
“It’s really a combination of planning and keeping a close tab on the weather: winds going in the right direction, and fuels dry enough that they burn properly,” he said. “Those operations are very controlled, but they’re really critical in areas where line construction is difficult to make sure the fire doesn’t reignite in those unburned fuels.”
The forecast calls for a warming and drying trend in the next few days, he said, so they’ll be waiting anxiously for optimal conditions.
Several areas are still listed at a Level 3 evacuation alert, advising residents to leave 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. A Level 2 advisory is in place for residents on the north side of Vantage Highway east of the Operating Engineers’ Training Facility to the wind farm boundary, meaning people there should be prepared to evacuate if anything changes.
The cause of the fire, which began on July 27 in Chelan County, is still under investigation.
Meanwhile, crews are close to wrapping up operations on the Mile Marker 28 Fire, where 615 firefighters remained on active duty Sunday night. At its peak, almost 1,300 were on duty after the fire started July 24. Monday, crews will start moving to a smaller Type 3 organization with local agencies in control.
Fire information officer Bernie Pineda said the local team will shadow the state-managed team all day today, then take over full fire management Tuesday.
Firefighting efforts will be focused on the northern east and west sides of U.S. Highway 97 on the fire perimeter, he said; the southern half of the fire is mostly under control.
“Still finding some hot spots, but that’s expected; we’re just chasing those down and dousing them out at this point,” Pineda said.
Crews are working on mop-up operations, including putting out hot spots anywhere within 200 feet along the perimeter.
“That’s a lot of work — think about it, 40 miles, plus, of perimeter to do,” he said.
The forecast calls for a high pressure system to hold steady over the fire for the next few days, maintaining warm temperatures and dropping the relative humidity a little, Pineda said. But officials don’t see anything to worry about; any fire activity is deep in the interior of the fire.
“We’re very secured in terms of ... our lines and perimeter that we do have,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a major event to push anything out of our perimeter at this point, and we just don’t see that in the weather.”
Both fires will continue to send smoke over much of south-central Washington as fuels continue to burn in the interior.
Burn bans are still in effect for Yakima County and all Department of Natural Resources-operated lands due to poor dispersion and ventilation with all the smoke in the air. No campfires are permitted on state-protected lands, and agricultural burning is also banned.
• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.