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I-90 reopens as firefighters contain wildfire

A fast-moving wildfire closed the main Seattle-to-Spokane interstate and threatened a small Central Washington town early Tuesday but was under control Wednesday as was an earlier fire west of Wenatchee.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on July 11, 2018 9:45AM

Last changed on July 11, 2018 10:18AM

Interstate 90 between Vantage and Ellensburg, Wash., was closed for about 12 hours as firefighters worked to contain it.

Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office

Interstate 90 between Vantage and Ellensburg, Wash., was closed for about 12 hours as firefighters worked to contain it.

VANTAGE, Wash. — Interstate 90 reopened at noon Tuesday after being closed for about 12 hours due to a wildfire that crossed the freeway and threatened the town of Vantage, causing its evacuation.

A 22-mile portion of I-90, the main route between Seattle and Spokane, was closed between Ellensburg and Vantage due to the fire that burned 1,612 acres of mostly sagebrush.

Randy Shepard, interagency fire spokesman, said he’s not aware of any of the ground being used for grazing and believed no crops were damaged.

As of Wednesday morning, the Ryegrass Coulee Fire was 80 percent contained with crews mopping up and watching unburned areas within the southeastern portion, Shepard said.

“For the time being we have the upper hand,” he said. It is not known if the cause is natural or unnatural and it is under investigation, he said.

The fire burned to the edge of the Columbia River and 2-inch embers were blown across the river by winds of up to 60 mph but did not ignite the eastern shore, firefighters said.

The fire was reported shortly before 11 p.m. July 9 by I-90 motorists who spotted it north of the freeway about three miles west of Vantage.

Wind rapidly spread the fire to Vantage where about 200 people were evacuated about midnight by Kittitas County sheriff’s deputies going door-to-door.

An outbuilding in an orchard south of town was destroyed and a barn damaged, Shepard said.

More than 400 guardrail posts along the freeway were burned, the sheriff’s office said.

Meanwhile, the 317-acre Little Camas Fire, about eight miles west of Wenatchee and six miles south of Cashmere, was 74-percent contained as of Wednesday morning. The fire was kept within fire lines despite significant winds on July 6 and July 10, said Rick Acosta, spokesman for an interagency effort led by the state Department of Natural Resources, Chelan County Fire District 6 and the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews worked to save Weyerhaeuser timber and a rare plant, the Oregon Checker Mallow, he said.

The fire was reported about noon July 5 and was attacked initially primarily by aircraft. Steep, rugged terrain made ground efforts difficult.

Camas Meadows Bible Camp and three homes within two miles of the fire were on evacuation standby for several days and then released. The cause is not known and is under investigation, Acosta said.

On Wednesday, firefighters were reinforcing fire lines, mopping up hot spots and watching for rolling burning logs. Full containment is estimated for July 20.

Demobilization was underway with total personnel at 364, down from a peak of 442. Aircraft were reduced from eight to three. Fire engines from 23 to two and bulldozers from four to two. Water tenders were up from eight to 11.

A 2-acre lightning-strike fire near Beaver Creek about 12 miles northeast of Leavenworth was extinguished by firefighters Tuesday.


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