'When those flames come up, they sound like thunder'
GOLDENDALE, Wash. - A wildfire burning in Central Washington grew to more than 4,600 acres on Friday after burning just 100 acres when it started on Wednesday evening.
The fire has also shut down Highway 97 between Goldendale, Wash. and Toppenish, Wash. (it's burning 15 miles NE of Goldendale) due to due to smoke and the danger of debris rolling off steep hillsides.
As of Thursday evening, 500 firefighters were at the scene. Fire managers called in more help during the afternoon to deal with extremely difficult conditions, including heat, low humidity, wind and steep terrain.
Fire crews evacuated about 30 homes in the area and more residents on the south side of the fire have been put on notice that they might be forced to leave. Firefighters are trying to keep the fire from crossing a ridge with more homes on the other side.
"I used to be a firefighter, I know how it comes through those trees. When those flames come up they sound like thunder," said Beverly Buitenbos, who lives near the fire.
Buitenbos has lived in the area for 30 years and said she did have to evacuate a few summers ago.
"It came over the hill so fast and came up the canyon," she recalled. "It was right across the road from where those houses are."
This time around she's close, but the fire is closer to her kids' homes. And one of her sons is fighting the fire, which adds to her worries.
On Thursday, firefighters had the help of several helicopter crews that were dropping water on the flames, but they said the conditions were not good for containing the fire. KATU meteorologist Dave Salesky said temperatures Thursday were between 90-95 degrees with winds between 10-20 miles per hour.
"It's more intense, different fuel, a lot dryer, you know we're at a Haines Index of five today, so this thing just got out and moved, it's pretty intense," said Don Jones, Yakama Nation Fire Chief.
Things are expected to cool off a bit Friday, but Salesky said the winds will likely pick up when that happens.
Fire officials said this is one of the worst fires they've seen in a while in the area. As of Thursday, there was no containment. The fire started on Yakama Nation land and has since spread to Washington Department of Natural Resources land.
DNR spokeswoman Janet Pearce described fire conditions Friday as extreme.
The Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the danger in much of Eastern Washington, including Goldendale, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Moses Lake.
Firefighters had better luck with a fire that broke out Thursday in Okanogan County near Twisp. A quick response with seven engines and a helicopter had it contained Friday at just 5 acres, Pearce said.