Recent rainfall has helped slow growth of the Schneider Springs Fire. And there's more rain predicted late this week along with cooler temperatures, authorities said.
"Come Friday, we're expecting a fall-like storm system that's going to impact much of Washington and Oregon," incident meteorologist Phil Manuel said during a virtual community meeting Monday evening. "There's a river of very moist air that will come in to the coast and there may be as much as 1 to 2 inches of rain on the west side of the Cascades.
"Some of that moisture is going to spill over into this particular area and there's about an 80% chance that we'll see at least a 10th of an inch over the entire burn area. And there's about a 40 to 50% chance that we'll receive about a half inch of rain," he added. "Something else that you're going to notice — the temperatures are going to be much cooler. ... Maybe some of that rain falls as snow at elevations above 6,000 feet."
The rain and potential snow will further dampen activity of the fire, which is burning 18 miles northwest of Naches. The fire was caused by lightning on Aug. 3. It grew by 387 acres to 102,742 acres with 19% containment as of late Tuesday morning, according to an update. No structures have been lost.
A total of 611 people were assigned to the fire Tuesday. Additional materials and equipment arrived and were used to reinforce structure protection in the Goose Prairie community Monday evening and into Tuesday, the update said.
Moderate fire behavior was expected Tuesday and firefighters planned to continue efforts along the northern portions of the fire, where it's most active. Resources continued to secure and anchor line along Forest Road 1706 and the new north-south fire line northwest of Cliffdell to prevent fire spread to the north and east.
Firefighters also planned to improve the completed dozer and hand line along the east-west section of Forest Road 1706 and the new fire line northwest of Cliffdell, according to the morning update. Crews and equipment would continue work on structure protection in the north, including Goose Prairie, Bumping Lake, Bumping River Road and the north-south portion of the State Route 410 corridor.
Repair work has continued with heavy equipment and personnel working road systems north of Rimrock Lake, Bethel Ridge and Nile Road, officials said.
Though Tuesday was predicted to be warm, cooler-than-normal temperatures overall have helped firefighters' recent efforts. It's still quite dry, though, Manuel said Monday evening, and the next few warm and windy days could be a challenge before the expected rain arrives.
When will the fire be out?
Manuel was first of several speakers in the virtual community meeting. Dan Omdal, a public information officer on Northwest Team 10, led the meeting, which also included fire behavior analyst Forrest Ownbey.
Everyone wants to know when the fire is going to go out, Ownbey said. "Well, I can tell you it's not going to go out right away, but we've seen it slow down quite a bit," he added. "It slowed down a lot because those temperatures have dropped. We had a little bit of precipitation on Friday."
"We're looking at a lot of slowdown with this fire with the temperature changes and the precipitation that's going to come in," he added. "We're really in a season-slowing event coming up."
Though crews have slightly increased overall containment and have solidified it to the east of the fire, areas such as Edgar Rock continue to be a challenge. Edgar Rock is southwest of Cliffdell along State Route 410 and is steep, with rugged and rocky terrain all around the area.
"Over here at Cliffdell, Edgar Rock — this has been our kind of Achilles heel, so to speak," said Dean Lange, operations chief for Northwest Team 10, as he pointed to a map. "Because we've got to get that containment or the rest of it doesn't matter. That's the thing about firefighting — it's all or nothing. If there's one part that's open and that fire gets out of there, you start over."
Lange praised firefighters, who are working round the clock in two shifts. "This fire has been a tremendous effort by the day shift and the night shift folks," he said. "Things are going good."
More closed areas opening by the weekend
Among others speaking Monday was Naches District Ranger Aaron Stockton. He said the U.S. Forest Service plans to open up a little more land that's now closed because of the fire.
"That area will be the areas north of (State Route) 410 up into Little Naches," he said. "Currently we have everything south and west of Forest Service roads 1900 and 1902 closed, and so we'll be opening those back up.
"Just give us a couple days to be able get in there and remove those barriers, but we should have that back open for the weekend," Stockton added. "Other areas that are open are areas to the east of 410 and the area south of (U.S.) Highway 12."
Forest land in the fire area between State Route 410 and U.S. Highway 12 has been closed. Rimrock and Clear lakes are open, along with recreation on Tieton River.
One person asked if Bethel Ridge Road and Forest Service roads 1400 and 325 would be open before elk muzzleloader season opens Oct. 2. Stockton said that area is on the edge of the fire as a control line, so he wouldn't expect it to be open by then.
"It's going to depend on when we're able to get up there, remove hazard trees and do road reconstruction in those areas," he said.
Another asked if people were allowed to go to their cabins on Forest Service land road on Bumping River Road — and if not, when.
"Currently we still have operations going on as fire did go across Bumping River Road. There's very limited access in there now. ... I can't tell you when we'll be able to open that back up," Stockton said, though "we're really going to shoot to get areas back open for the winter sports season."
"Right now it's still not in a situation where we feel comfortable allowing wholesale access for recreation."
Forest closures, which cover public land, are different than evacuation notices, which cover private land.
The Bumping River and Lost Creek roads are at Level 2 “get set” evacuation notices. The State Route 410 corridor from Salmon Cove to Pinecliff is also at Level 2. Level 1 evacuation notices remain in place for the State Route 410 corridor from Pinecliff to the junction of U.S. Route 12, and from U.S. 12 at State Route 410 west to Tieton Reservoir Road.
The state Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plan to fully reopen their Eastern Washington land on Thursday after closures tied to fire danger. The Oak Creek Wildlife Area will remain closed because of the Schneider Springs Fire, WDFW said.