The South Cle Elum Ridge Fire, as it is now being called, is burning through brush on the south side of South Cle Elum, six miles outside of town. It was called in around 5 p.m. Thursday. Air resources immediately responded and began fighting the blaze, as all other resources were tied up with the Snag Canyon Fire. Since Friday helicopters and tankers have been reportedly dropping hundreds of gallons of water and retardant down, and are doing their best to keep the fire below the southern ridge.
Thus far the flames have burned through over 300 acres of private and state forest property. Winds have carried embers into three locations beyond the boundaries of the larger burning area, creating separate spot fires. Containment overall of the South Cle Elum Ridge Fire is at 0 percent.
The terrain of this fire is very steep and rough, which poses significant safety concerns for bringing firefighters in to fight. At a committee meeting in Central Washington University’s Student Union and Recreation Center, officials reported that their number one priority with all fires is fire and public safety. With the steep ground and very heavy timber, this priority is being challenged. Until a more strategic plan of safety can be mapped out the air resources will continue to drop water and retardant.
Currently 19 houses in the Woods and Steele are have been put on alert, and stand at an evacuation level 1 status on the north side of the ridge. Depending on the changing weather patterns expected for later this week that level could either be raised or lowered. Further details are pending. The 4510 Road is the only reported closure.
What caused brush to burn in the South Cle Elum Ridge fire has yet to be determined. Speculations surround a smoldering ember, sparked by the lightning storm August 2, that later flared up from the increasing wind. The Kittitas Public Health has issued a warning for residents to limit outside time, due to the decline in air quality. This warning was emphasized for those with respiratory conditions.
The American Red Cross has established available space with the Ellensburg fairgrounds for any displaced livestock or domestic animal. Mark Kinsel, emergency response veterinarian, reported that the fairgrounds are ready should conditions for the South Cle Elum Ridge Fire worsen. A list of emergency shelter volunteers has been established, and all members are also ready should anything change.
There are still some animals being housed there from the Snag Canyon Fire that started by lightning storm late Saturday, August 2. Volunteer Dena Haney reported earlier this week that the highest number of animals finding shelter there was around 54. This included alpacas, chickens, ducks, dogs, horses and ponies. All the animals get round-the-clock care, and are never without food, water or shade. “All the animals…[are] in excellent health,” Haney said. “They’re all doing pretty well.”
At the committee meeting Saturday, August 8, officials from Washington Incident Management Team 3 said that all the teams are sharing resources and information about both the Snag Canyon and the South Cle Elum Ridge Fires. Everyone from the Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, and the Kittitas County Fire Districts are stretched thin. Representatives from over 28 different states have been called in to aid across Washington State.
The appearance of the burning brush known as the South Cle Elum Ridge Fire has tapped into every available resource. Reports of extra help are in the works. Further details about this fire are pending.
By Rachel Roddy