Fueled by strong winds and dry brush, a wildfire has consumed approximately 24,000 acres and destroyed more than 60 homes in Central Washington.
As of late Tuesday morning, authorizes said containment levels remained at zero but about four miles of lines have been dug.
The fire, near Cle Elum, grew rapidly overnight from just 2,800 acres at 8 p.m. Monday.
The fire, coined as the Taylor Bridge Wildfire due to its point of origin, forced the evacuation of about 450 homes, dozens of horses and even chimps from a chimpanzee sanctuary, but no injuries were reported, the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office said.
Hundreds of firefighters from across the state have responded to the scene including strike teams from King and Yakima counties. Undersheriff Clay Myers said every available local unit has been called on.
“Everyone in Kittitas County who can fight a fire is out there fighting the fire,” Myers said.
The fire is said to have started at about 1:20 p.m. Monday in a Washington State Department of Transportation construction area at the Taylor Road Bridge, which is part of the Bristol Fill Bridge Deck Repair Project, WSDOT’S Megan McFadden said.
McFadden added that a number of construction activities were taking place at the time the fire started and it is unknown what the exact cause or source of the fire is. The Kittitas Fire Department is investigating the cause and source of the fire.
Its rapid eastward expansion was fueled by winds and dry vegetation. The weather forecast isn't much better for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to be anywhere from 85 to 95 degrees, with 25 mph winds and gusts of 35 mph.
Cle Elum, which is about 80 miles southeast of Seattle, has a population of 1,872, according to the 2010 Census. It is a rural area known for its horse farms. Its city motto is "heart of the Cacades."
The county sheriff's office has determined that the fire poses a "specific and immediate threat(s) to the life and safety" of people in the affected areas.
The Emergency Operations Center ordered evacuations of residents for the following areas: Bettas Valley, Swauk Valley, Teanaway, and homes on the west side of state Route 97 between SR 97 and Swauk, SunEast, Upper Reecer Creek, Green Canyon, areas northeast of Ellensburg, specifically homes with no green/defendable space around them.
An evacuation center for Ellensburg residents has been set up at Munson Hall, a residence hall of Central Washington University.
In addition to the direct fire risk, county health officials have downgraded the air quality to “very unhealthy” and are urging those with health issues to remain indoors.
Crews were operating an emergency shelter at Cle Elum Centennial Senior Center and an animal shelter was set up at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds. At least 54 horses had been evacuated, the sheriff's office said, but added that only "a few citizens have utilized emergency shelters."