Fire crews battled a blaze in central Washington state that had destroyed more than 43 square miles of dry forest and brush and continued to grow, stoked by strong winds Tuesday afternoon and evening.
The wildfire, sparked Monday afternoon at a construction site near the small town of Cle Elum, charred thousands more acres Tuesday afternoon, damaging more than 60 homes and forcing nearly 500 people to evacuate. No injuries have been reported, fire spokesman Rick Scriven told The Times.
“It’s going to get even more difficult,” Scriven said. “If this fire gets any more wind-driven, they’re going to have a heck of a fight on their hands.”
The Taylor Bridge fire -- named for the site where it started -- began eating into mixed grassland and forested areas to the east and north. The fire is about 75 miles east of Seattle.
Washington has had minimal fire activity the last few seasons, Scriven said, and dry vegetation has built up in forests and meadows. Dry grasses to the north and east will provide instant tinder, posing challenges to firefighters converging from across the state.
“In some of these areas that are extremely dry, if the fires get into the big, tall sage, it will really take off,” Scriven said. “Especially with the wind.”
Washington’s Department of Transportation closed a 14-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 97 after the fire leaped the road. On Tuesday afternoon, flames stayed north of Interstate 90, the main freeway stretching between Seattle and Spokane.
The priority of first responders, said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Bryan Flint, was protecting property and people.
Hundreds of livestock were evacuated, most to a local fairground, and unclaimed horses roamed the smoky area. A local chimpanzee sanctuary also appeared threatened by the blaze.