CLE ELUM, Wash. - Gusty winds and high temperatures hampered efforts Tuesday to control a fast-moving wildfire that has already destroyed 70 homes and burned across nearly 45 square miles on the east slope of the Cascades.
The fire was burning on grassland, timber and sagebrush east of Cle Elum, a small, central Washington town about 75 miles east of Seattle.
At least 900 people have been evacuated, but no injuries were reported from the blaze, which began at a bridge construction site Monday afternoon, Department of Natural Resources Fire Incident Commander Rex Reed said.
Fire commanders estimated the blaze has burned across at least 28,000 acres and was not contained. Fire crews were arriving from across the state Tuesday, with as many as 600 expected by the end of the day.
Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for Kittitas and Yakima counties Tuesday afternoon and will allocate additional firefighting resources to the fast-moving wildfire. The Department of Natural Resources has requested air support from the Washington National Guard to assist in containment efforts.
Because Gregoire is on vacation in Ireland, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen signed the proclamation at her request. Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis says that Gregoire plans to be back in the state next week, but is getting hourly updates on the fire.
Vacation homes and cabins pepper the scattered forests around Cle Elum, and summer is a popular time to visit the mountains and escape the heat.
Brad Rorem and his two sons were at their family cabin high on a hill up a windy, forest road. They were preparing gear to float the Yakima River and fish when they spotted the blaze under the bridge from their deck.
"It sort of erupted, and the wind was blowing hard in our faces," he said. "It just shot up so fast."
The homes of at least three neighbors were gone, said Rorem, 50, of North Bend.
"We feel really fortunate to have gotten off the mountain in time," he said.
Joe Seemiller, a captain in Kittitas County Fire and Rescue, and his crews monitored the edge of the fire Tuesday near the Yakima River, trying to keep it from crossing where there is a subdivision of homes nearby on the other side.
"Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we're going to be fighting this awhile," Seemiller said.
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