The Snag Canyon fire’s recent growth in Ellensburg, Washington, has taken a toll on firefighters’ strength as they bravely continuing to battle the fire day and night. It remains only 10 percent contained and has nearly doubled in size overnight. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the fire was reported at 3,500 acres. Gusty winds blowing east at 20 to 30 miles per hour continue to provide an added challenge to the firefighters. This morning, Cory Wall of the Fire Incident Management Team estimated the fire at 6,400 acres, which is about 10 square miles.
“The biggest hurdle is the terrain,” Wall said. “This fire is moving. It’s very steep terrain. It’s very inaccessible terrain…very dangerous…to put a whole lot [of] firefighters.”
At the public meeting hosted at Central Washington University on Tuesday night, Joe Blazek of the Fire Incident Command Team announced that westerly winds are expected later this week. This, he said, will carry the fire even further east. No reports of rain are on the horizon for the time being.
Level three evacuations went into effect this morning for residents in the Schnebly and Coleman canyons, the entire Sun East area and those from Robbins Road north of Smithson Road. Notice has also been extended to the area just north of Nealey Creek and west of 3500 National Forest Road. This also prompted the closure of the west half of the Naneum Ridge State Forest.
Jill Beedle, a public information officer in the sheriff’s office, said that she intends to reduce the evacuation level of the Sun East area to a level two by early afternoon. However, the roads will only be open to residents and they will have to check in at the roadblocks. Non-residents will be prohibited. Beedle added that only the residents who still have homes intact will have an escort and be allowed to go in and out.
“There’s still a lot of fire apparatus and personnel working in that area,” she said, explaining the reason behind the road closure. She added that the fire is still very active.
The 35 mile-an-hour gusts of wind have placed an immense amount of stress on the 200 firefighters, testing their strength against the Snag Canyon Fire to the max. Reinforcements arrived Wednesday and are expected to continue throughout the afternoon. Reports of nearly 3,000 firefighters on site have filtered in. Planes from Alaska have been summoned to pour retardant on the fire, attempting to slow the fire’s rapid growth, which will give the firefighting crew a safer chance to build a fire line. Strong fire lines have also been established along the southwest part of the fire, providing an anchor for the crews to develop more secure containment of the fire.
“It’s probably going to take firefighters more than a few days to get [the Snag Canyon Fire] contained,” Department of Natural Resources forester Rich Wood said. “Right now, it’s just a firewall moving east.” As trees burst into flames across the Wilson Creek Canyon, he explained, “That’s state forest…if the wind shifts back towards the valley in a few days…that’s something we worry about.”
Emergency shelters at Mercer Creek Church and the Ellensburg fairgrounds are still open as the fire progresses and the red flag warning remains in effect. Currently, the fairgrounds are housing a large collection of animals, including both livestock and domestic pets. Additional winds are expected later this week, continuing to add anxiety to the firefighters and test their strength as they battle the Snag Canyon Fire.
By Rachel Roddy
Yakima Herald (Fire Doubles in Size)
Yakima Herald (Wind)