Some residents being allowed to return to burned areas

YAKIMA — Some residents living near a wildfire in central Washington were allowed to return to their homes Thursday as firefighters made progress containing a blaze that has burned dozens of homes and forced hundreds of people to leave their homes.

The Taylor Bridge Fire was 33 percent contained by late Thursday — up from 25 percent — and no homes have been lost in the past two days, fire spokesman Mark Grassel said.

The fire has destroyed 70 homes and more than 200 outbuildings, burning across more than 35 square miles since Monday east of Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Hot weather, high winds and dry fuels ranging from dry grasses to sagebrush and thick timber have made the fire a stubborn foe.

Some residents who had fled the fire’s southeast corner were allowed to return home Thursday afternoon. Grassel said he did not have precise figures. The area affected by the new advisory comprised just a small part of the burned area.

More than 950 firefighters are assigned to the fire.

Crews focused Thursday on strengthening lines on the fire’s stubborn north flank, where it has burned into thick stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir and the terrain is steep and rugged.

“They’re really trying to button up that line so they feel more secure about it holding,” he said.

Unusually hot, dry weather is expected heading into the weekend with isolated thunderstorms increasingly possible Saturday, he said.

One firefighter was recovering at home for a few days after suffering minor facial burns while leaving a hot spot on foot after a fire engine wouldn’t start.

Laurie Plut said she doesn’t feel out of danger just yet. The fire has been right at the timberline for two days, just beyond the wood cabin she and her husband have been building over the past 12 years in a collection of 40 lots, all but five of them vacation cabins.

“We’re still worried. It’s extremely frustrating, but the firefighters have been working hard,” she said by telephone. “And we have to love them.”

Easing evacuation levels will be welcome news for some residents who are either frustrated to be away from their homes or wondering if they’re still standing.

The news also could begin to allow those people who already know they’ve lost their homes to assess the damage.

State Farm Insurance already has received about 25 claims that vary from smoke damage to destroyed residences in what has proven to be a busy wildfire year, spokesman Brad Hilliard said.

The high number of fires, the large size of the fires and their destructive nature — particularly the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., have been devastating for property owners this year, he said. And though it’s been relatively quiet in Washington state leading up to the Taylor Bridge Fire, he noted, all it takes is one fire.

“At this point, we’ve been able to get in somewhat and get a sense of the situation, and we’ve made contact with some customers who’ve called in to file claims, but we haven’t been able to inspect individual sites,” Hilliard said. “It’s tough to get in and find out what’s going on. It makes it very difficult.”

Near Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington, about 100 firefighters worked a wildfire that has scorched across about 12 square miles. The fire was 70 percent contained by late Thursday, said Colville tribal spokesman Kathy Moses.

No one has been injured in the fire that broke out Tuesday evening near the community of Elmer City and burned two outbuildings.

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