'It's a slow, creeping fire:' On the front lines of the Jolly Mountain Fire

More than 120 Washington National Guard members are joining the fight to bring several major wildfires in our state under control, including the Jolly Mountain Fire near Cle Elum. (Photo: KOMO News)

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. -- More than 120 Washington National Guard members are joining the fight to bring several major wildfires in our state under control, including the Jolly Mountain Fire near Cle Elum.

The fire has burned more than 24,500 acres since lightning sparked it on August 11.

Many of the Washington National Guard members hit the road Wednesday afternoon to make their way to Kittitas County. The National Guard soldiers rolled in with day-sleeping barracks for the night shift crews, security personnel and more resources to help fire fighters.

Meanwhile, firefighters continue to work around the clock to try to contain the fire.

With his radio in hand, Information Officer Kale Casey is in constant communication with commanders as he walked Wednesday near one of the fire lines in Morgan Creek. It's on the western edge of the fire.

"This is not contained. This is the fire. This is not a back burn. This is the fire itself backing down the hillside," Casey told reporters.

The first priority for crews is protecting lives and saving homes.

Just like the one up the street.

"And that home is looking fantastic," Casey said. "All the homes are looking fantastic. So, that’s huge."

You might think all the smoke in the air here is a bad thing, but firefighters said the inversion layer is actually helping the fire fight.

Division Supervisor Jimmer Hunt arrived from Southern Oregon five days ago.

He’s responsible for resources over an 8-mile stretch.

"There’s less wind, the heat isn’t getting as hot as it has been, and just conditions on the ground are more ideal for us to introduce fire and introduce more of those more direct holding tactics," Hunt said.

That’s exactly what these hot shot crews are doing here. They’ve spent days clearing out anything that could act as fuel and set up lines where the fire can come to. It’s known as an indirect strategy, Casey said.

"Why managers are choosing indirect strategy is you have a much higher probability of catching this on the roads without injury and death than you do of trying to go into the woods," Casey said.

This is a small taste of the massive area firefighters have to cover.

Their work is slow and steady. But everyday, they make progress.

"When it gets right here, the engines will just spray it down and monitor it for a couple more days, they’ll touch everything cold and we’ll have our infrared flights and we’ll know that it’s out, out, out," Casey said.

Wednesday night fire fighters had a game plan which included keeping a close eye on fire lines around neighborhoods, making sure the fire doesn’t jump over lines and having hot shot crews use a back burn technique to slow down the fire.

“We’ve prepped these areas so that the vegetation and dead fuels have been removed,” Steven Bekkerus with the U.S. Forest Service said. “So it’s just a creeping fire, and it’s coming downward from the hill so it’s very slow and it kind of fizzles out when it hits our fire lines.”

There will be a community briefing on Thursday night to update the public on the status of the fire. It'll be held at Walter Strom Middle School in Cle Elum beginning at 6:00 p..m.

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