With solid progress on the Evans Canyon Fire, officials said they will lift evacuation orders and reopen the road through the Yakima Canyon on Wednesday morning.
Despite challenging windstorms Monday, firefighters held their ground on the fire, which started Aug. 31 north of Naches. It was at 75,817 acres Tuesday, or 118 square miles, and 70% containment, said public information officer Roland Emetaz.
“Everything is going well. We’re securing lines, doing more and more mop up. We survived the wind event. It was a good test of our efforts in building containment lines,” said Emetaz. “Everything held. We’re just continuing to secure and mop up all the way around the incident.”
Remaining evacuation orders will be lifted in Yakima and Kittitas counties at 8 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. State Route 821 through the Yakima Canyon will reopen at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Yakima River, boat ramps and canyon campgrounds also will reopen Wednesday, according to a report from the Northwest Incident Management Team 12. BBQ Flats and Wenas recreation areas remain closed.
On Tuesday, crews were on mop-up and patrol status, as well as repairing fire suppression control lines.
Recorded wind gusts in Yakima hit 47 mph Monday, with sustained wind as high as 30 mph, said Brandon Lawhorn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore. He said wind speeds rose and fell in big swings.
Visibility was reduced below a mile at many locations on Monday as a wall of dust and ash moved through the region. Ellensburg, Yakima and the Yakima Training Center all reported 25-30 mph with gusts 40-45 mph.
In Naches, Sue and Kailan Dunn, both 76, live on a dirt road on Kel-Lowry Road. Sue Dunn said the storm was unlike anything she had seen in their 40 years there. A tree planted long before they arrived was uprooted and left hanging from another tree nearby. A neighbor had a Douglas fir land on a carport, she said.
“It was just amazing,” said Dunn. “We’ve been in this house for 40 years and never ever have I seen winds this strong. Our patio furniture was rearranged.”
In days prior, cinder and ash from the flames on nearby Cleman Mountain coated her property, she said.
Wind in the coming days is expected to ease up, said Lawhorn of the National Weather Service. A haze may settle back into the area from surrounding Washington fires. But temperatures were expected to be cool Tuesday evening and begin picking back up Wednesday with temperatures in the mid-80s, followed by lower 90s Thursday and Friday, he said.
“As for fire weather in our area and especially in Yakima, there should be nothing critical,” Lawhorn said. “Relative humidity will still be dry the next couple days and into the weekend, but wind will be much lighter, which hopefully will help with firefighting efforts in that area.”
Emetaz said he felt confident this was true for Evans Canyon Fire.
“We don’t feel there’s going to be any issues related to the Evans Canyon Fire (and)... warmer temperatures. After we survived the wind event last night, we have a pretty good feeling about it,” he said.
Moving forward, onward
Emetaz said it remains important for individuals to be conscientious about not starting new fires.
“The main thing is we want folks to be careful with fire, wherever they go. It’s going to continue to be hot and dry. Just avoid anything that might ignite dry grasses or dry vegetation,” he said. “We have enough problems. We don’t need any more.”
Fire crews statewide were stretched thin as they responded to an estimated 300,000 or more acres burned in just 24 hours Monday, said State Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon. But she said progress was being made on the Evans Canyon Fire, which proved challenging to contain last week.
“We are seeing the ability to mop that fire up and be able to hopefully put an end to it, let people get back to their homes and enable us and our firefighters to move onto the next fires,” she said. “As you know, we have a number of them.”
Roughly 950 families were evacuated because of the Evans Canyon Fire, and six homes were lost, she said.
Gov. Jay Inslee thanked residents of the Wenas region who followed evacuation orders, which helps fire crews maneuver safely in addition to protecting residents from danger.
Emetaz said a total of 571 personnel were continuing to work on it Tuesday, including nine crews, 63 engines, six bulldozers and six helicopters. He said there would likely be a reduction in crews and engines on the fire overnight as resources are reallocated to other fires that sparked Monday.
The Northwest Incident Management Team 12 will demobilize from Evans Canyon Fire, moving on to support other fires in the region. A local unit of the state Department of Natural Resources will take oversight of the fire within the next two days.
Both Franz and Emetaz said the cause of the fire was still unknown and under investigation. Emetaz said he was not aware of lightning in the area on Aug. 31, when the fire started.