Fire near Cle Elum declared arson

THORP – Amber Schlichting cried when she heard the news Saturday: Her family’s home was one of two houses destroyed in a wind-fanned wildfire that roared through a nearby canyon a day earlier.

To many, that wasn’t even the worst news delivered Saturday, as local officials announced the fire was the work of an arsonist. The fire was the 11th blaze started by a firebug in central Washington’s Kittitas County in the past two months, but the first to destroy structures.

Two homes, including Schlichting’s, and a workshop burned in the blaze.

The arson cases are draining local officials and residents, Kittitas County Undersheriff Clayton Myers said.

“It’s had a substantial impact on us. It’s stressing our resources. In fact, we’ve moved beyond what our resources can handle,” he said.

About 100 homes remained evacuated. The state incident management team took control of the firefighting effort Saturday morning, and by midday the fire was estimated at about 300 acres and zero percent contained. More than 400 firefighters were assigned to the fire.

No injuries have been reported.

A state of emergency was declared in Kittitas County. The Red Cross provided food and cots for evacuees at a local high school, where children played in the front yard and dogs sat tied under the shade of trees.

Helicopters dropped water and planes spread retardant to prevent the fire’s spread. Firefighters hoped to continue to channel the fire away from nearby forests, but they remained concerned about high winds, said Dave Johnson, incident commander for Washington state.

“There’s a lot of fire still in the trees. The concern is about the wind coming in and blowing that up,” he said. “Where the wind goes is where it’s going to take it.”

A day earlier, 25 mph winds pushed the fire through a canyon from its start near I-90 between Cle Elum and Ellensburg. One home burned at the canyon’s edge, while another was the victim of a spot fire across a narrow dirt and gravel road.

Many homes had just barely been saved by firefighters, Myers said. At some houses, the fire lapped at the front door.

Schlichting, 20, and her family weren’t so lucky. She sobbed upon learning their mobile home of two months had burned, as boyfriend Alex Hoover cried quietly, his head on her shoulder. Their 20-month-old daughter, Ashley, sat on Hoover’s lap.

“I still just can’t believe it. They tell me everything’s gone. Nothing’s left,” Schlichting said later. “It doesn’t even feel like reality. It’s our first home.”

Firefighters gave them two minutes to get out, Schlichting said, which was only enough time to load their daughter, pets and photos of her late father in the car.

The fire started at about noon Friday. Myers announced Saturday the blaze was believed to be linked to 10 other arsons this year. Another half-dozen arsons from last summer also remain unsolved.

All of the fires have similarities, Myers said. Most have been set in the afternoon, in areas with plenty of fuel, such as dry grass or timber, and near homes and highway access.

No one has claimed responsibility.

The sheriff’s department offered a $10,000 reward for information in the case.

About 900 firefighters continued taking on blazes in other parts of central Washington. The Pot Peak-Sisi Ridge complex of four fires west of Lake Chelan had burned more than 40 square miles and was half contained by Saturday afternoon. It had burned two recreational buildings and was threatening the community of Stehekin, though fire officials said there was no imminent danger.

The lightning-caused Rattlesnake Peak fire 40 miles west of Yakima had burned about 373 acres, but was burning in heavy fuel in an area that had not burned for 60 years.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, left, a member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, looks on at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. After the speech, Inslee signed a bill sponsored by McCoy that seeks to improve oral health on Indian reservations in Washington state. The measure is the first bill the governor has signed this legislative session and it allows tribes to use federal funding for dental therapists. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Curriculum on state tribes to be renamed after late Tulalip legislator

On Tuesday, John McCoy’s former colleagues in the Senate honored the late lawmaker by passing House Bill 1879.

Man stabbed, killed inside Lynnwood-area condo

Detectives were looking to identify suspects in a killing Monday night at the Brio Condominiums.

Everett Housing Authority is asking for city approval for it’s proposed development of 16 acres of land currently occupied by the vacant Baker Heights public housing development on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
North Everett housing project plan gets taller with 15-story buildings

The original plans for the Park District called for 12-story apartments. Another public hearing is set for March 5.

Mt. Pilchuck covered in snow is barely visible through the clouds as the sun breaks through illuminating raindrops as they fall off of the Mountain Loop Highway on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Active’ weather brings rain, snow, hail, fresh powder to Snohomish County

Up to an inch of snow could accumulate in the lowlands. Three inches of rain could fall in Darrington. And Stevens Pass is “doing quite well.”

Cousins Penny Leslie and Sidney Baker work together on a mural inside a jail cell at the Mukilteo Police Department on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No more staring at blank canvas in Mukilteo police holding cells

Bright murals now adorn the walls. The artwork is intended to calm and relax detainees.

Joanne Fisher, right, a meat wrapper with the Marysville Albertsons, hands a leaflet to a shopper during an informational campaign on  Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Fisher was one of about a dozen grocery store workers handing out leaflets to shoppers about the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
US sues to block merger of grocery giants Kroger, Albertsons

Grocery workers in Snohomish County and elsewhere have argued the merger would stymie competition and hurt workers.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee during its meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, where the panel indicated it would not move ahead with legislation to cap residential rent increases at 7%. The move effectively killed the bill for the 2024 legislative session. (Bill Lucia/Washington State Standard)
Plan for 7% statewide cap on rent increases fails in Olympia

State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, told reporters the bill did not have enough support to move it forward.

Shoppers cross Alderwood Mall Parkway after leaving the mall and walking through its parking lot on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lynnwood police seek 3 suspects after pursuit, brief shootout

The driver of a stolen car intentionally hit a teen boy Sunday, officers said. Police pursued the suspects near I-5.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.