Aided by nickel-sized hail and an inch of rain, crews working the 42-square-mile fire burning near Satus Pass said Friday they hope to have the fire fully contained by Tuesday.
And for the first time since the Mile Marker 28 Fire started nine days earlier, traffic was allowed late Thursday to travel unescorted over the pass on U.S. Highway 97. The road has been closed for much of the fire, but escorted convoys were allowed through starting Wednesday.
Meanwhile, progress also continued Friday on the much larger 125-square-mile Colockum Tarps Fire burning northeast of Ellensburg. While that area didn’t see much rain late Thursday or Friday, cooler temperatures allowed crews to expand containment to 30 percent.
Fire officials say crews are working to build lines around the remaining 6 miles of that fire and will mop up and secure fire lines that have already been built.
The Colockum Tarps Fire grew only slightly Friday. But the potential for growth remained extreme as of late Friday and evacuations remained in effect.
“The threat to us is greatly diminished,” said Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair said. “I’m a lot less worried today than I was on Wednesday.”
The weather forecast for this weekend holds mixed blessings. Thunderstorms could ignite more fires, but rain and cooler temperatures at night could further help firefighting efforts.
While the weather has been largely helpful along the south central slopes of the east Cascade Mountains, the same has not been true to the north.
Firefighters from East Wenatchee to Tonasket on Friday handled dozens of fires sparked by hundreds of lightning strikes across North Central Washington on Thursday afternoon.
Aided by heavy rain and the quick response of local fire crews, many fires were contained by Friday morning.
Okanogan County got the worst of it.
Dispatchers were flooded with calls — so many that some were redirected to Ferry County, which acts as an emergency backup, said Chief of Special Operations Mike Worden. Dispatchers usually handle 70 calls a day in the summer. On Thursday, they handled 283 calls — the bulk of them coming between 1 and 5 p.m.
Undersheriff Joe Somday said there were 40 active fires burning in Okanogan County at one point, but many of those were contained by dark. The largest included 500-acre and 1,000-acre fires near Riverside, where dozens of low-level evacuation notices were given, he said.