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Mills Canyon Fire: Highway 97A closed as firefighters ramp up efforts

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A helicopter drops water on a hillside alongside the Entiat River Road, just up canyon from the intersection with Mills Canyon.

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GALLERY

10 p.m. update

Latest estimate for the Mills Canyon Fire is 6,100 acres as wind fanned flames burn towards the Columbia River. All residences along Highway 97A between Entiat and Swakane Canyon Road near Rocky Reach Dam are under Level 3 evacuation, meaning residents should leave.

Highway 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan is closed to all traffic. Traffic on Highway 2/97 on the east side of the Columbia should travel cautiously due to heavy smoke on the highway near Orondo.

 

8 p.m. update

Residents of homes along Highway 97A between Swakane Canyon Road and Entiat River Road have been told to leave their homes due to fire danger and firefighting activity from a fire that started Tuesday in Mills Canyon.

Evacuation levels have were raised to level 3 — the highest alert — this evening as wind gusts fan the fast-moving brush fire. There are about 106 residences in the area.

Highway 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan is closed to all traffic due to smoke and firefighting activity. Traffic is being detoured to Highway 2/97 on the east side of the Columbia River.

 

4 p.m. update

Fire officials have closed Highway 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan due to fire activities. All traffic other than local residents who live between Wenatchee and Entiat are being detoured to Highway 2 on the east side of the Columbia River.

Evacuation levels along Highway 97A between Swakane Canyon Road and Entiat River Road have also been escalated to Level 2, meaning residents should be ready to leave immediately if fire danger increases.

 

ENTIAT — A fast-moving brush fire that started in Mills Canyon Tuesday was at 5,500 acres this morning and is expected to grow dramatically today as high winds fan flames over steep hillsides toward Swakane Canyon and Chumstick Mountain.

The wildfire, which was started about noon by what fire spokesmen believe was a house fire, has apparently not destroyed or damaged other homes. But at least 189 homes are under evacuation warnings this morning.

A Type 2 regional incident command firefighting team took over the fire this morning, bringing in more resources and equipment. A command center is being set up at Entiat High School.

Firefighters planned to hit the fire hard this morning, dumping water and retardant with three air tankers from Moses Lake Airfield and four helicopters as well as seven 20-person hot shot teams and other ground crews, said Susan Peterson, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. There were 15 engines, four bulldozers and about 250 firefighters on the ground Tuesday, but more firefighters and equipment will be called in today, she said.

The main concern is high winds today, Peterson said. The National Weather Service has posted a red flag warning for Wednesday evening. Temperatures will be slightly cooler today — a high of 97 degrees is forecast — but west winds are expected to blow between 15 to 30 mph throughout the afternoon and evening. A red flag warning advises local residents and agencies of extreme fire danger weather conditions.

The fire is believed to have started when a residential fire in Mills Canyon spread to brush around noon Tuesday. Mills Canyon is about three miles west of Entiat off the Entiat River Road.

Level 3 evacuation — the most urgent — was in effect for residents of Mills Canyon and Dinkleman Canyon until late this morning. The evacuation warning for those 27 homes was reduced to Level 2, which urges residents to leave their homes or be ready at a moment’s notice. They join 53 other residences at Level 2 along the Entiat River Road between mile post 1.5 and Dinkleman Canyon Road.

Swakane Canyon Road and along Highway 97A between Swakane Canyon, Sherman Canyon and Entiat River Road are on Level 1 notice, meaning residents should be on alert and ready to leave on short notice. Peterson said 109 residences are located in those areas.

An emergency shelter has opened at Entiat High School for those who have been forced from their homes. Meals are also available for fire victims, said Nicolle LaFleur, executive director of the Apple Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. Four residents stayed at the shelter Tuesday night.

Swakane Canyon Road, Mills Canyon Road and Entiat River Road at Entiat Way are now closed to all traffic other than residents who live farther up the Entiat River Road. Campers in the upper Entiat River Valley have not been evacuated, but new vacationers are being restricted from going up Entiat River Road due to firefighting activity, said Rich Magnussen, Chelan County Emergency Management spokesman.

Reach Rick Steigmeyer at 509-664-7151 or . Read his blog Winemaker's Journal or follow him on Twitter at @steigmeyerww.

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