Updated 3:45 p.m. Thursday: The Evans Canyon Fire, which was estimated at 52,000 acres Thursday, was 10% contained as of early afternoon.
“That containment figure is significant, though," said Joel Brumm, a public information officer for the fire. "They don’t issue any percentage of containment until they’re really confident that that line — even if it’s tested by winds or the fire makes a run for it — they’re going to be able to hold it.”
Fire crews began a burnout operation on the east side of Cleman Mountain in the afternoon, aimed at removing fuels between the wildfire and a bulldozer control line, an afternoon report from the Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management team said.
The operation will be visible along Old Naches Highway and beyond, but is an intentional burn "to starve the wildfire of flammable vegetation in this area," it said.
U.S. Highway 12 is not in danger, a post from Yakima Valley Emergency Management said this afternoon.
Updated 10 a.m. Thursday: The Evans Canyon Fire north of Naches has grown to an estimated 52,000 acres, or 81 square miles, fire officials said.
The size estimate was based on infrared mapping from a flyover Wednesday, said fire information officer Roland Emetaz. The blaze is not contained.
The fire started Monday afternoon in the Wenas Valley and grew quickly in high winds. Five homes have been destroyed and 900 residences are covered by evacuation orders in the area north of Selah and Naches.
State Route 821 through the Yakima River Canyon is closed. People are advised to use Interstate 82. The closure is from milepost 3, six miles north of Yakima, to milepost 24, five miles south of Ellensburg.
Crews plan Thursday to mop around structures and secure control lines that were constructed Wednesday, as well as establish containment lines around the fire perimeter, according to a morning report from the incident command team.
People may see dark smoke columns today as firefighters conduct burnout operations, Emetaz said. Burnouts are controlled fires to get rid of fuel and slow the fire’s advance.
Temperatures are expected to reach a high of 93 degrees, but winds are expected to be light, with speeds of seven to 10 mph. Ridge-top gusts are predicted to reach 20 to 25 mph.
On Wednesday, firefighters were able to stop the spread of the fire on the southeastern edge near Longmire Lane in Wenas Valley by securing it with dozer lines – or firelines created with the front blade of a bulldozer.
Firefighters focused retardant and water drops on the west side of the fire near Cleman Mountain, and dozer lines were also constructed in the Umtanum Creek area.
A total of 443 people are fighting the fire today. The effort includes nine hand crews, 49 engines, nine bulldozers, seven water tenders and eight helicopters.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Officials ask everyone to stay out of the fire area and follow evacuation orders.
Emetaz said while fire crews appreciate people’s donations, he said they cannot accept items because of COVID restrictions. He said they have plenty of water and food.
One way to support fire crews is to put up signs in yards thanking firefighters, he suggested.
Updated 9 p.m. Wednesday: The Evans Canyon Fire, which had destroyed five homes and grown to nearly 35,000 acres, was still entirely uncontained as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Evacuations in the area, which began Tuesday, spread to include 900 homes by midday Wednesday, with the Red Cross helping evacuees find shelter in local hotels.
The fire, which began around 2:30 p.m. Monday about 8 miles north of Naches, had grown to 30,000 acres by 7 a.m. Wednesday, racing through the Wenas Valley southeast toward Selah and crossing the Yakima-Kittitas county line.
The destruction of the five primary residences represents “the greatest loss of property to fire in Yakima County in nearly five years,” according to emergency officials.
Level 3 — go now — evacuation orders are in place for all homes north of Wenas Lake, west of Longmire Lane and north of Naches Wenas Road in Selah, and north to the Kittitas County line. Level 3 evacuations also extend south to Wenas Creek and east of Sheep Company Road to the Yakima River. A Level 2 — be prepared to go — evacuation order is effect in the Yakima Canyon, which has been closed for recreational activities.
More than 60 families have been housed by the Red Cross at two Yakima-area hotels, said Michele Roth, executive director of the Red Cross for Central and Southeastern Washington. The organization can’t use large, open-layout shelters because of the pandemic, she said. It also has not set up a physical emergency response location, but it has established a 24-hour emergency phone line at 509-594-0016.
“Anybody who has been displaced by this fire can call that number,” Roth said. “That phone is manned 24 hours.”
More help coming
By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, high winds and the day’s heat had increased the fire’s size to 34,775 acres, or 54 square miles, incident team spokesman Roland Emetaz said. At that point it was still 0% contained, he said, with 437 personnel working the fire. That included nine hand crews, 10 bulldozers, seven water tenders, nine helicopters and 52 fire engines.
“That’s a huge number,” Emetaz said of the fire engines.
The crews are focused on protecting private structures and other valuable assets such as cattle, rangeland, agricultural and recreational areas.
They faced challenges with wind throughout the day Wednesday with gusts up to 35 mph. Those conditions limit firefighting options, fire operations chief Aaron Rowe said Wednesday at a 2 p.m. news conference. Firefighters generally try to reduce risk of injury by attacking the fire from the back and flanking around it as it spreads rapidly through grasses and brush, he said.
“Wind provides an added caution to when the firefighters are there because we can’t really get around in the front of it, basically,” he said. “It’s just going to have an added effect on how we can effectively control the fire.”
More help is on the way. Northwest team 12 Incident Commander Bob Shindelar said the arrival of additional resources over the next few days could double the number of people working on the fire. Fires raging throughout the West could limit the help available for the Evans Canyon Fire. But Shindelar said it should elevate in priority for the Northwest region on Thursday, which should lead to more resources.
Stay out of fire area
Shindelar urged people to follow local orders to evacuate and stay out of the fire area, noting vehicles trying to drive toward the fire create hazards for firefighters.
Yakima County Emergency Management Director Tony Miller said the Yakima County Sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officials throughout the state arrived to create barricades and close down roads.
Miller also apologized for some glitches in the Wireless Emergency Alert System, a new tool to replace Alert Yakima. Many Yakima County residents erroneously received an evacuation message on their mobile phones late Tuesday night.
“We’re working through those issues with the agencies that run those,” Miller said. “Sorry for the inconvenience for anybody that got that, but we’d rather get more alerts out than not enough to make sure everybody got out of the danger of the fire.”
Space at State Fair Park
State Fair Park in Yakima has opened its RV parking for those displaced and has stable space for animals. Those who need it can enter at Gate 5 near the corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and Fair Avenue. It is free to evacuees and open to people and all kinds of animals, Kramer said.
“If we run out of space, we won’t turn anyone away,” she said. “We’ll tie them up to a tree or to a fencepost, and I’ve always had that philosophy. We don’t care if they’re four-legged, they’re feathers, even if they slither we’ll take their animals because I can’t imagine being in the perils of a fire. And we’re so fortunate that we have these assets and we can respond to the community.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds midday Tuesday to help with the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.