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Power restored, evacuation level lowered in Colockum-area fire

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A fire in the Malaga area can be seen burning on the hillside near Alcoa on Wednesday afternoon.

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Malaga fire at-a-glance

Size: Four miles long by one-half mile wide

Evacuations: 37 homes under Level 2 evacuation advisory this morning

Damage: Power poles and lines destroyed; power cut to more than 400 Chelan County PUD customers, including Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works smelter

Started: 4:19 p.m. Wednesday between mileposts 7 and 8 along the Malaga-Alcoa highway.

Firefighters: More than 70 firefighters from rural fire districts in Grant, Douglas and Chelan counties, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Natural Resources and Bureau of Land Management.

Cause: Under investigation

— Michelle McNiel, World staff

 

 3:30 p.m. Thursday update — Firefighters now have a brush fire that scorched 1,300 acres of hillside above the Alcoa Wenatchee Works Wednesday 90 percent contained.

About 25 firefighters from Chelan County Fire District 1, the Department of Natural Resources and Alcoa are still mopping up hot spots inside the fire perimeter, said Cindy Blaufuss, District 1 administrative coordinator. Hot spots may continue to throw up flames during the night, she said, but the fire is no longer spreadiing. A District 1 helicopter measured the fire at about 1,300 acres this afternoon.

The 37 homes under Level 2 evacuation were reduced to Level 1 this morning, meaning residents should continue to be on alert but could remain in their homes. No homes were damaged by the fire. Restrictions on roads in the area were also lifted, although motorists are warned to watch for fire vehicle traffic between mile posts 7 to 12 on the Malaga-Alcoa Highway, Blaufuss said.

 

By Michelle McNiel and Christine Pratt

World staff writers

MALAGA — Utility crews worked through the night to replace damaged power lines and poles burned in a fast-moving brush fire that blackened a four-mile-long stretch of hillside and cut power to Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works smelter and hundreds of homes.

No structures were burned in the blaze, but up to 60 were threatened as the fire moved toward the Colockum area Wednesday afternoon.

The evacuation advisory was reduced this morning from Level 2 — be ready to leave — to Level 1 — be alert, but its OK to stay — for the approximately 40 homes threatened by the fire.

Chelan County PUD crews restored power at 8:30 a.m. to a revised estimate of 200 customers — down from an original estimate of 400 — affected by the fire. Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works smelter was without power from about 6:15 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, plant spokesman Jens Lee said in a news release. 

Power to the plant wasn’t completely restored until early this morning, the Chelan PUD said in a news release.

Alcoa crews this morning continue work to stabilize the plant’s electricity-powered pot lines,  Lee said. The company likely wouldn’t be able to comment on effects to aluminum production for several days, Lee said.

The size of the fire had not been determined as of this morning, but it was about four miles long and at least a half mile wide, Chelan County Fire District 1 Chief Mike Burnett said this morning.

The fire was first reported around 4:20 p.m. along the Malaga-Alcoa Highway between mileposts 7 and 8, Burnett said. Pushed by a stiff wind, the fire moved quickly through dry grass and brush,  prompting fire officials to call a second and then a third alarm.

Winds were blowing between 20 and 30 mph on Wednesday afternoon, with several 35 mph gusts recorded, according to the National Weather Service.

It was moving extremely fast,” Burnett said, adding that at one point a fire official was driving 15 mph along the highway and was barely keeping up with the fire’s spread.

Fire crews were summoned from throughout Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties. The state Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, and federal Bureau of Land Management all joined the fire fight, along with an Alcoa fire brigade.

The wind pushed the fire south toward the Raven Wing Ranch housing development and up into the hills, toward Dry Gulch and Jump Off Ridge and areas burned by last summer’s Milepost 10 Fire. The fire burned in the area of Alcoa’s plant, but never crossed the highway in that area.

Some fire crews were pulled back from the fire’s edge when power poles and lines began falling, Burnett said. 

The fire quieted down by 7:30 p.m., and crews were able to contain it along the highway, Burnett said.

But fire officials this morning didn’t know the status of the fire at its upper reaches, where it went into the hills. Burnett said a helicopter was scheduled to fly over the area this morning to assess how far it burned.

The cause of the fire is unknown, and Burnett said a fire investigator was expected today.

The fire caused significant damage to structures carrying PUD transmission lines along the Malaga-Alcoa Highway, Kirk Hudson, the PUD’s managing director of generation and transmission, said in a news release this morning.

Crews estimate up to 20 of the wood pole structures may need repair or replacement. Repairs continue this morning. A week may be needed for a full fix.

The fire damaged both primary and backup power supplies to both the McKenzie and Valhalla substations, which power the Alcoa plant, officials said.

Three of the burned pole structures belong to the Douglas County PUD on a line the crosses the Columbia River.

Douglas PUD’s efforts to help restore power to Alcoa resulted in a 25-minute power outage to 426 Douglas PUD customers in Rock Island, utility spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert said this morning. 

 

Michelle McNiel: 664-7152

mcniel@wenatcheeworld.com

 

Update, 9 a.m. today — Power was restored at 8:30 a.m. to a revised estimate of the 200 Chelan County PUD customers affected in the fire zone. Power went out at the Alcoa smelter at about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday and has since been restored, plant spokesman Jens Lee said in a news release this morning. He couldn’t immediately comment on impacts to production. Crews this morning continue work to stabilize the plant’s electricity-powered pot lines.

Update, 7 a.m. today — Utility crews worked through the night to replace damaged power lines and poles burned in a fast-moving brush fire that blackened a four-mile-long stretch of hillside and cut power to Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works smelter and hundreds of homes.The Chelan County PUD hoped to have power restored to most customers by 10:30 a.m.

No structures were burned in the blaze, though as many as 60 were threatened as the fire raced toward the Colockum area Wednesday afternoon. About 40 homes remained under a Level 2 evacuation this morning until firefighters can assess whether the fire could still be a threat today, said Chelan County Fire District 1 Chief Mike Burnett.

The size of the fire has still not been determined, but it was approximately four miles long and at least a half mile wide. The fire was first reported around 4:20 p.m. along the Malaga-Alcoa Highway between mileposts 7 and 8, Burnett said. Pushed by a stiff wind, the fire raced quickly through dry grass and brush,  prompting fire officials to call a second and then a third alarm.

It was moving extremely fast,” Burnett said, adding that at one point a fire official was driving 15 mph along the highway and was barely keeping up with the fire’s spread.Fire crews were summoned from throughout Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties. The state Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, and federal Bureau of Land Management all joined the fire fight, along with an Alcoa fire brigade.

The wind pushed the fire south toward the Raven Wing Ranch housing development and up into the hills, toward Dry Gulch and Jump Off Ridge and areas burned by last summer’s Milepost 10 Fire. The fire burned in the area of Alcoa’s plant, but never crossed the highway in that area.

Some fire crews were pulled back from the fire’s edge when power poles and lines began falling, the chief said. The fire quieted down by 7:30 p.m., and crews were able to contain it along the highway, Burnett said.But fire officials don’t know the status of the fire at its upper reaches, where it went into the hills. He said a helicopter is scheduled to fly over the area this morning to assess how far it burned.The cause of the fire is unknown, and Burnett said a fire investigator would arrive today. Michelle McNiel: 664-7152mcniel@wenatcheeworld.com 

 Update: 9:15 p.m. – Power is out to Alcoa’s Wenatcee Works smelter and to more than 400 Chelan County PUD customers in the Malaga to Colockum/Tarpiscan areas. The first reports of outages came in around 5:40 p.m., PUD spokeswoman Kim Craig said this evening. PUD transmission lines are damaged in several areas along the Malaga/Alcoa Highway. PUD crews plan to begin repairs as soon as fire crews give them access, Craig said.

It’s currently unconfirmed when power first went out to the smelter, but an Alcoa spokesman confirmed the outage and said crews will work throughout the night to stabilize the electrically powered pot lines. Additional information may not be available until Thursday morning, he said.

 

COLOCKUM — The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office is notifying 37 homes in the Colockum/Tarpiscan region to be ready to evacuate ahead of a fast-moving brushfire.

Level 2 evacuation notices are in effect for Colockum Road from the Tarpiscan Y to Kingsbury Road, all of Kingsbury Road and all of Tarpiscan Road, Jason Mathews, chief of special operations for the sheriff’s office, said at 7:15 p.m.

Under a Level 2 evacuation, residents are advised that the fire is nearby and they should be ready to get out, Mathews said. No forced evacuations were in place Wednesday night, he said.

Fire crews from all around the Wenatchee Valley are battling the fire south of Malaga. The fire is expected to spread south into the Colockum region by nightfall Wednesday.

More information about evacuations and possible structures threatened should be available soon, Jason Mathews of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said at 7 p.m.

The fire was reported at 4:20 p.m. It apparently began near an orchard at about milepost 7 on the west side of the Malaga-Alcoa Highway.

Strong winds were blowing it south.

Glen Widener, batallion chief with the Wenatchee Fire Department, staged an incident command post at the entrance to Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works plant. No unauthorized vehicles were being allowed past Alcoa at about 6 p.m. Many were lined up along the roadside waiting to pass.

Water tenders and brush trucks were arriving from many fire districts around the valley. Crews were either already working on the fire or staging to get to work.

Widener said he didn’t have an estimate of the fire’s size, but huge swaths of mountain side on the west side of the highway were smoldering or burning around 6 p.m.

 

Reach Christine Pratt at 509-665-1173 or . Follow her on Twitter at @CPrattWW.

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