PLAIN — Residents packed their belongings, tended to their yards and tentatively went about their daily business on Thursday as they kept a watchful eye on the thick smoke pouring off the ridgeline nearby.
“Fire trucks have been driving in and out of here all day,” Chelsey Diamond said as she packed up things at the Mountain Sprouts Children’s Community in the Chiwawa Valley. “When they come, I hold my breath, and then they leave.”
The children’s center at the Tierra Learning Center has cancelled classes until Monday, turning away about 30 children on Thursday and Friday because of the Chiwaukum Creek Fire burning a few miles to the northwest.
“We’re so boxed in here by forest,” Diamond said. “It’s just too much risk to have the children here.”
She added, “I’m nervous. I’m a little bit scared. It’s affecting everyone around here.”
The Learning Center has spent the last two years cutting trees and removing brush to make its building more defensible in a wildfire. But now under a Level 1 fire evacuation, with the fire looming a few miles away, Diamond said they can’t escape the fact that they are closely surrounded by dense forest.
By late afternoon, the Chiwaukum fire had still not crossed Highway 2 or the Wenatchee River. Nearly 900 homes remained under the highest level of evacuation — Level 3 — though people were venturing out to visit the grocery and hardware store in Plain to stock up on supplies.
A division of city and rural fire trucks from primarily Western Washington that arrived at the Beaver Valley School staging area late Wednesday night headed into Ponderosa and along Plain River Road to begin preparing homes for a defense against the fire.
Crews came from Gig Harbor, Westport, Lacey, Jefferson County, Skykomish, Thurston County, Monroe, Lewis County and the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Others were from Spokane and Spokane County and rural fire districts throughout Chelan County.
“We’re going to see which neighborhoods are safe to access and how much we can do based on the fire conditions,” said Capt. Brian Hyatt of Monroe Fire District 3. “This is shaping up to be one of those days that can produce a lot of extreme fire behavior.”
The crews planned to remove combustibles around homes and, if necessary, put out any spot fires that ignite from the main fire front.
Fire reconnaissance personnel were making regular visits to Susan Hastings and Bob Lamar’s Plain neighborhood on Thursday, getting a good view of the smoke plume.
Hastings and Lamar had already packed up valuables and set up sprinklers and water cannons after the fire made a big run Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, they decided to do a landscaping project while they kept an eye on the fire.
“You worry about all the firefighters and all the people in the direct path of the fire,” she said. “And when you gotta go, you go.”