Wildfire chars more than 1,600 acres near Vantage; 50 percent contained

About 120 people have been evacuated from Vantage as a wildfire that started late Monday night threatens their homes. (Photo courtesy: Kittitas County Sheriff's Office)

VANTAGE, Wash. - The Ryegrass Coulee Fire burning near Vantage was 50 percent contained as of Tuesday night.

Monday night, about 120 people in the town of Vantage and its surrounding area, including a state park and recreation area, were evacuated by a fast-moving wildfire that broke out overnight.

The fire later slowed, and residents of Vantage were told they could return home - but be prepared to leave again at a moment's notice if the blaze flares back up.

The Wanapum Recreation Area and Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park also were evacuated Tuesday morning and closed until further notice, officials said.

The blaze earlier shut down a 22-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions for about 12 hours. All lanes of the freeway were reopened in the area at around noon Tuesday, but blowing ash and smoke remained a problem. State emergency officials also said burned-down signs could blow onto the freeway.

The blaze erupted around 11 p.m. Monday and spread very quickly, pushed by winds gusting up to 60 mph, said Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair.

By 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, some 200 people had been forced from their homes by the wildfire, Kittitas County sheriff's officials said.

The wildfire burned about 1,612 acres as of Tuesday night.

Several crews, including the state Department of Natural Resources, are working to contain the fire around Vantage, which at one point was directly threatened by the flames.

Sinclair said the fire had reached the Columbia River bank, but 2-inch embers were blowing across the entire river at one time.

"You would think something as big as the Columbia River would stop a wildfire," Sinclair said. "Not when you're battling 60 mph winds."

One outbuilding has burned and a barn damaged by the flames. Several utility poles also have burned.

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office has worked with the Red Cross to establish a shelter for the evacuees at George Community Hall, 403 W. Montmorency Blvd., in the town of George.

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