Cle Elum wildfire burns 60 homes, threatens more

Cle Elum wildfire burns 60 homes, threatens more »Play Video
Taylor Bridge Fire burns near homes and other structures near Cle Elum in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 14, 2012. (Photo courtesy: Wade Morisette)
CLE ELUM, Wash. (AP) - A fast-moving wildfire burned 60 homes across about 40 square miles of central Washington grassland, timber and sagebrush.

Fire commanders estimated Tuesday the blaze has burned at least 26,000 acres since it started Monday afternoon east of the town of Cle Elum.

So far, no injuries have been reported but more than 400 people have been forced to flee, said Department of Natural Resources Fire Incident Commander Rex Reed

The fire crept within six miles of Ellensburg, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

The blaze, which began at a bridge construction site, is not contained. Authorities worried about wind and heat, saying the fire danger was extreme.

"We've had a long prolonged dry period - three weeks with no precipitation at all," Reed said.

About 15 evacuees stayed overnight at Munson Hall on the Central Washington University campus in Ellensburg, said spokesman Robert Lowery. The building is a dormitory usually used for conferences and could take a total of 150 evacuees, he said.

The fire also threatened a chimpanzee sanctuary. "They definitely know there's weirdness happening," Outreach Director Diana Goodrich said Tuesday. "There are still fire trucks here, and they're curious about them."

The state Transportation Department said a 14-mile section of U.S. Highway 97 was closed because of the fire.

The fire started along Highway 10 between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, said Kent Verbeck, a commissioner and one of the volunteers with Fire District 7.

"It went on up the hillside in an area where there are some pretty nice homes, and it burned up there," Verbeck said. "There may be cabins and outbuildings as well."

Verbeck was on the fire line until early Tuesday.

"A lot of the area is sagebrush, which is really dry and burning with a pretty good flame," he said. "Lot of dry terrain with the wind going the right way, and it just kept going," Verbeck said.

"It eventually got so big and spread so much late last night we were dealing with miles of fire front," he said.

Map of fire as of Tuesday morning: