Updated noon Saturday:
Wenatchee air quality is still hazardous Saturday morning, Sept. 15, but “much better than last night and yesterday,” according to the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Leavenworth had unhealthy air this morning and Chelan “unhealthy to very unhealthy,” but both were breathing easier than Friday.
“All areas are trending towards better air quality (AQ) this morning with the light winds passing through so we might see more improvement during the day,” the Health District said in a 9 a.m. statement.
If you have to go outside, the Health District is still urging you to take it easy (skip mowing the grass, don’t exercise) and recommends you wear an N-95 mask or a p-100 painters mask. Dust masks and bandanas won’t cut it.
The best advice: Stay inside and keep the doors and windows closed. If you’re driving, keep the window up and the A/C on recycling.
Posted noon Saturday: By Rick Steigmeyer
World staff writer
WENATCHEE — A dry cold front that blew into the region late Friday has helped clear smoke out of the upper Wenatchee River valley and should help lift the inversion that has been holding toxic smoke in the Wenatchee area for the past week.
The heavy smoke has suppressed fire activity, but has made it impossible to use air support on the fires, said Mick Mueller, Wenatchee Complex spokesman.
“We haven’t even been able to do any observation on the Poison Fire and Tripp Canyon,” Mueller said. Clearing in the upper valley near Cashmere will allow observation planes to fly over the area and size up the situation so a strategy can be developed to fight the fire.
Observation planes will also be taking a close look at the Forest Ridge area, east of Wenatchee, and the First Creek area near Lake Chelan’s south shore. Those are both areas of potential fire growth, he said.
“People should see more helicopter work this weekend,” Mueller said.
Mueller said there have been no new evacuations as of 11 a.m. Saturday. Level 3 evacution notices — meaning residents should leave — remain in effect for about 87 homes in Castle Heights, Kings Court, Canyonside, Lindville Drive and Queens Court area in Number 2 Canyon, and for about 40 homes west of Sage Hills Drive. Some 11 homes in Tripp Canyon were put on Level 2 evacuation Friday.
The Friday night cold front along with another mild cold front due in Saturday night should lift the inversion and allow heat to vent from the valley, added fire spokesman Randy Shepard.
Light winds could increase fire activity, but the clearing will allow observation planes and helicopters to get into fire areas and do a better job. As promised by Gov. Chris Gregoire, two National Guard helicopters arrived Friday, bringing the total helicopter count on the Wenatchee Complex to 11.
Nearly 1,300 firefighters are now working on the Wenatchee Complex Fire. Resources include 32 fire crews, 152 engines from all over the state and 12 dozers.
Another weak cold front was expected to blow 5 to 8 mph winds through the valley Saturday night that should continue to clear the air and allow more air operations. Helicopters may move from Pangborn Memorial Airport to staging areas in Leavenworth and the Chelan Airport.
An additional fire camp was set up Saturday at Entiat City Park for resources assigned to the First Creek and Byrd Canyon fires.
A rumor posted on Facebook Friday night that a structure in the Wenatchee area had burned is untrue, Shepard said. Observers did a thorough check of the area this morning.
“There were no structures lost. We want to be very cautious about spreading information about things that didn’t happen,” he said.
Here’s an update on each of the Wenatchee Complex Fires in Chelan County as of noon Saturday: Total fire acreage is 30,606 acres, 15 percent contained.
Canyons Fire: 7,871 acres, 25 percent contained.
Firefighters worked through Friday night and this morning to dig, doze and backburn additional firelines along the east end of the fire where canyon residences were threatened. Burnout activity has also created a strong buffer between Number 1 Canyon and Number 2 Canyon.
Peavine Fire: 4,621 acres, 5 percent contained.
Fire crews worked along USFS Road 9712 to move the fire away from structures in that area. The fire is located southwest of Wenatchee in the upper Mission Creek/Devils Gulch area and is burning in shrub and pine forest.
Poison Fire: 2,480 acres, 10 percent contained.
Crews worked around houses along Mission Creek Road and Tripp Canyon near Cashmere to reinforce buffer lines. Friday, crews worked on containment lines along the fire’s west and northwest flanks to keep it from moving into Tripp, Brender and Brisky Canyons.
Byrd Fire Complex: 13,954 acres, 45 percent contained.
It was a quiet night on the Byrd Fire between Entiat and Chelan, Shepard said. Crews will be reinforcing lines today. Containment is expected within the near future. Mopup may be turned over to local fire districts so interagency crews can move on to other fires, Shepard said.
First Creek: 1,278 acres, 5 percent containment.
Fast moving flames on rocky terrain caused problems for hotshot crews Friday. Crews will try to establish lines around flanks that threaten homes along Lake Chelan’s south shore. A crew of tree fallers has been called in to remove trees that could fuel the fire and help establish fire lines.
Pyramid Fire: 262 acres, zero containment.
Klone Fire: 50 acres, zero containment.
These two smaller fires north of Entiat are unmanned and are growing in size. Shepard said crews will likely be sent to them today.
Douglas County and Okanogan County fires update
Barker Canyon Complex fires: 92,000 total acres, 79 percent contained.
Fire crews are mopping up the 75,000-acre Leahy Fire and 17,000-acre Barker Canyon fires. The national Type 2 Incident Command team will now turn command over to a Type 4 team of local fire crews, said fire spokeswoman Cindy Bork. Crews will continue to camp at Electric City.
“We’re still gridding the area to make sure everything is out, but with 92,000 acres, it’s a huge perimeter,” Bork said Saturday morning. Fire crews did find a couple of hot spots near residential area Friday, but quickly cooled them down.
“This fire is on its way out, but it’s not over until it rains,” she said.
Okanogan Complex fires: 3,611 total acres total on three fires, 10 percent contained.
Clearing air Saturday morning is favorable for air operation on the Buckhorn Fire, northwest of Methow, and the Leecher Fire, northeast of Methow. The smaller 160-acre Hunter fire is now in mop up stages.
Overnight burnout strategies were successful on the Leecher Fire. Evacuation notices to 24 residences in the Buckhorn Fire area are still in effect. No structures have been lost on any of the fires.