Wildfire closes U.S. 2; residents of nearly 900 homes told to flee

SPOKANE — A wind-fueled wildfire chased people from nearly 900 homes in Washington and forced the closure of U.S. 2 at Stevens Pass on Thursday.

There was zero containment Wednesday as the flames tore through timber. More heat and winds gusting up to 30 mph were forecast for Thursday.

The fire’s smoke plume, visible for miles, rose 25,000 feet into the air. The blaze closed 35 miles of U.S. 2, stretching from Leavenworth to Stevens Pass in the Cascade Range.

“There’s a huge cloud of smoke above us,” Don Hurst, a retired firefighter who lives just outside of Leavenworth, said Thursday morning. “The winds started to pick up a little. It’s just like snowfall here with the ash coming down. It’s fine ash. We’re getting all this ash fall.”

Residents of 860 homes have been told they should leave immediately, fire officials said. Another 800 homes were less seriously threatened.

Authorities said Thursday morning that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to more than 10 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday.

“The weather and winds are not in our favor,” said fire spokeswoman Mary Bean. She said temperatures were expected to top 100 degrees with winds gusting to 30 mph in the area Thursday.

She said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

About 1,000 firefighters were on the lines at the Chiwaukum Creek fire, the Mills Canyon blaze near Entiat and a third wildfire. The containment level on the Mills Canyon fire, the state’s largest at 35 square miles, held steady at 40 percent.

Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor’s offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare states of emergency, a move that allows state officials to call up the National Guard.

State fire assistance was ordered for the Carlton Complex of fires burning in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley, where residents of about a dozen homes have been told to leave. The fires grew dramatically early Thursday to more than 28 square miles, spokesman Jacob McCann said. There was zero containment.

“We have extreme fire behavior and rapid growth,” McCann said of the four fires that make up the complex.

A fire that started Wednesday afternoon in a northeast Oregon field west of Heppner raced quickly across as much as 20,000 acres, or some 30 square miles, before firefighters stopped its advancement, the Morrow County sheriff’s office said.

Undersheriff Steven Myren said no homes or other structures were lost, “although the fire did get uncomfortably close to some.”

Several other fires have blackened parts of Oregon, while blazes encouraged by dry conditions raged elsewhere in the West

In Utah, a wildfire encroaching on homes in the Tooele County town of Stockton had burned about 200 acres. Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said the fire burned part of a water tower but it’s believed no homes have been destroyed. A 27-year-old Tooele man has been arrested on charges that he ignited the fire with matches.

In central Idaho, the lightning-caused Preacher Fire has scorched nearly 53 square miles in two days, burning quickly through grass and brush. But fire managers said Wednesday they had made good progress.

Evacuation orders have been called off for several rural homes in Northern California as firefighters took advantage of cool, moist conditions.

Some residents near the destructive fire in Shasta County have been advised they may need to evacuate again, and the blaze that has burned more than 10,000 acres — or nearly 17 square miles — still poses a threat to nearly 70 homes, state fire officials said in a statement Wednesday night.

Marijuana-growing activity led to the fire breaking out on Friday, authorities said.

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