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Swakane backfire on Mills Canyon Fire canceled

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Firefighters plan to take advantage of favorable conditions Tuesday, July 15, and try to stop the Mills Canyon Fire at Swakane Canyon to prevent it from moving south toward the Wenatchee Valley. The map shows the fire's progression, which after a fast start has slowed to a crawl in recent days. Source: U.S. Forest Service

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11 a.m. update

Backfire activity in Swakane Canyon scheduled today to improve firelines on the Mills Canyon Fire have been cancelled due to a vehicle breakdown in what was to be the new fire area. Fire spokesman Joe Anderson said the intentional burning of fuels to widen the fireline in critical areas will be done another day, depending on weather conditions.

 

ENTIAT — Fire crews on the Mills Canyon Fire will be setting backfires in Swakane Canyon today to widen and protect critical fire lines.

Smoke from the intentionally set fires, scheduled to begin this morning in the lower Swakane Canyon area, may be visible from Wenatchee. The work will also require Highway 97A to close for an undetermined period today, said fire spokesman Joe Anderson. Activities could be postponed to later today or another day, depending on weather conditions, he said.

Swakane Canyon is considered a critical link in preventing the fire from moving south into residential areas on the edge of the Wenatchee Valley, including Burch Mountain and Eagle Rock. The work will also protect Nahahum and Ollala canyons. The present containment line is on the steep north side of Swakane Canyon. Burning debris rolling down the hills threatens to expand the fire. The burnout will remove fuels in the lower part of the valley to make a more secure line.

Extreme heat and heavy smoke from the burn out activity may make for some uncomfortable smoke conditions today, Anderson said.

The National Weather Service has a heat advisory in place. That’s very unusual for this area. It’s more than just hot,” said Anderson. Extreme heat — between 103 and 106 degrees today and Wednesday — combined with low humidity and smoke can cause serious health problems for many residents and dangerous working conditions for firefighters.

Fire crews made good progress on the fire over the weekend and Monday. The fire is now 34 percent contained. Diminishing winds, increased humidity, rain in places Monday, and more firefighters helped crews hold fire lines at Roaring Creek, about five miles west of Entiat and at Swakane Canyon to the south. The fire is estimated at 22,571 acres in size, about 35 square miles.

Dry lightning strikes and high winds forecast for Sunday night and Monday didn’t materialize. One area, near Dinkelman Ridge, got heavy rain Monday, which helped cool the fire but muddied roads and stymied equipment movement.

A Type 1 national fire team replaced a regional team to command fire strategy Sunday morning. The switch make more resources available to fight the fire. More crews were added over the weekend, bringing the total number of firefighters to 1,042. More engines have also arrived to be stationed at residences if needed. The crews are aided by several helicopters and air tankers, including one DC-10 jet capable of dropping 16,000 gallons of water and retardant. Tankers dropped more than 60,000 gallons or retardant one day last week.

There’s been no change in evacuation notices the past few days. Some 521 homes are on various levels of evacuation alert, but only about 42 homes in the Roaring Creek area have been told to evacuate.

Residences along Entiat River Road are still on evacuation alert and residents should be ready to leave if fire conditions change for the worse. Homes on Entiat River Road from Dinkelman Road to Roaring Creek Road are on highest evacuation notice. Also on evacuation alert are homes from Roaring Creek to Mad River Road and all of Fish Hatchery Road. Homes on Burch Mountain and Eagle Rock in the Sunnyslope area are on Level 1 evacuation alert.

Entiat River Road is restricted to local residents only. Swakane Canyon Road and upper Burch Mountain Road are closed, as are Hay, Olalla and Nahahum canyon roads past the pavement, according to Chelan County Emergency Management.

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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