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Mills Canyon Fire grows to 18,000 acres; officials release map

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Firefighters can be seen at lower left as fire races up the east side of Numeral Mountain above Highway 97A, close to Entiat on Wednesday night. Wind blew the fire east toward Highway 97A and the Columbia River south of Entiat.

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ENTIAT — Cattle ranchers Les and Lorraine Kile have lived through a fire or two, but none that got as close to their home as the Mills Canyon Fire last night.

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9:30 p.m. update

Highway 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan has reopened to all traffic. Residents  of homes between Entiat River Road and Swakane Canyon can now return to their homes but shoud remain alert to fire danger. Level 3 urgent evacuation notice for that area is now reduced to level 1.

Evacuation levels have escalated along Entiat River Road. Residences along Entiat River Road between Dinkelman Road and Roaring Creek Road are now level 3, meaning residents should leave. The rest of Entiat River Road is now at level 2, meaning residents should be ready to leave at any time. Travel on the road is restricted to residents only.

The Mill Canyon Fire is estimated now at 18,065 acres.

4:20 p.m. update

Fire officials have posted a map the Mills Canyon Fire perimeter. It is from Wednesday night but is the most recent map available. It is attached to this report.

 A public meeting for Entiat area residents regarding the Mills Canyon Fire will be held tonight at 7:00 PM at the new Chelan County Fire Station 8 located at 2200 Entiat Way in the town of Entiat.

 

2 p.m. update

The Mills Canyon Fire is now estimated at 10,100 acres, according to 1:50 p.m. posting in the InciWeb incident information system website.

About 120 homes between Entiat River Road mile post 1.5 and Roaring Creek Road are under level 2 evacuation notice, meaning residents should be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. Another 109 homes along Highway 97A are still under highest evacuation alert. Highway 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan remains closed due to firefighting activity, smoke and rocks rolling onto the highway. Link buses will also have to travel around the Douglas County side of the Columbia River on Highway 2/97 for service between Entiat, Chelan and Wenatchee.

ENTIAT — Fanned by strong wind gusts, the Mills Canyon Fire flamed its way down to the Columbia River Wednesday night, burning several outbuildings, threatening homes and closing Highway 97A.

Officials urged residents of 109 homes between Entiat River Road and Swakane Canyon Road to leave Wednesday evening after flames crested the hillsides above the Highway 97A and began working down the steep bluffs.

In addition to those Level 3 evacuation notices, deputies Wednesday night began alerting residents of another 122 homes along Entiat River Road to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Many residents decided to stay and try to protect their homes with sprinklers and prayers.

Latest estimates for the fire put it at 6,171 acres with no containment, according to the Washington Type 2 interagency fire management team that took command of the fire Wednesday. Three outbuildings were burned Wednesday night in addition to a house and outbuildings destroyed in Mills Canyon when the fire started Tuesday afternoon.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 508 N. Western Ave. in Wenatchee. No one stayed at the shelter Wednesday night, said Nicolle LaFleur, Red Cross executive director. A shelter at Entiat High School is on standby because of smoke but may reopen today, she said.

Smoke is heavy in some areas, but air quality is still well below dangerous levels at three monitoring stations in Entiat and nearby areas, according Chelan County Emergency Management.

Highway 97A closed Wednesday afternoon to all but local residents due to firefighting activity. By early evening, the highway was closed to everyone, including residents.

Some were frustrated that they had to drive around the east side of the Columbia River to Chelan and back down to get to their Entiat homes that weren’t in fire danger. Even so, travel was dangerous Wednesday night as thick smoke shrouded both sides of the Columbia and over the Waterville Plateau to the east.

Four helicopters and 408 firefighters are now on the fire with other crews and engines on their way, said Rick Scriven, fire team spokesman.

Incident team manager Kevin Rabe said ground crews would continue building lines along the fire’s northwest side. Terrain is very steep and not good for using bulldozers and other heavy equipment, so crews will work close to the fire as long as it can be done safely, he said. Fuel is mainly very dry grass that burns quickly and some downed timber burned in previous fires.

Lighter winds and slightly cooler temperatures today may help firefighters. The National Weather Service is forecasting high temperatures in Wenatchee at 94 degrees with 5 to 10 mph northwest winds. There’s little relief in sight, however, with possible record-breaking temperatures above 100 degrees forecast for next week.

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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