Steep terrain hampers effort to fight Devil's Elbow fire

Steep terrain hampers effort to fight Devil's Elbow fire

KELLER, Wash. - Hundreds of thousands of acres of land are on fire across Eastern Washington, and the latest wildfire to force people from their homes is the Devil's Elbow fire near Keller, where the biggest concern among firefighters is high temperatures and low humidity.

On Wednesday a fire surveillance helicopter circled the area above the Central Peak fire looking for the best way for firefighters on the ground to attack.

"Our biggest concern today is life and property and firefighter safety," said division group supervisor Jennifer Croft.

The Central Peak fire is one of several fires burning in the Devil's Elbow complex, which has burned 900 acres so far. Steep and rocky terrain in the San Poil Valley is limiting what crews can do on the ground.

"We had super scoopers, the CL-215's and the large and small helicopters," said Croft.

Adding to the danger, locals say rattlesnakes are also very active in the valley this time of year. Despite that, ground crews continue to cut line but winds keep spreading the fire, with dry fuels on the ground igniting from flying embers across those defenses.

"So really rapid fire behavior and really rapid when it does establish it goes in a new direction and takes off," said Croft.

Homes are still in harms way but firefighters are keeping pace.

"We had a really good effort last night saving a couple houses so I'm pretty proud of what we got going on out here," said Croft.

Evacuated residents can shelter at the Keller Community Center, where a tribal public health nurse is available to help evacuees.

"Maybe we can sit and calm you down or maybe it's something a little more serious and you need to go in." said Tribal health program public nurse Karen Wapato.

Firefighters expect to have another tough day but are encouraged by the support of the community.

Fire officials expect the Level 3 evacuations to last another 48 to 72 hours.