Wind-fueled wildfire burns through timber near Leavenworth

Wind-fueled wildfire burns through timber near Leavenworth
LEAVENWORTH, Wash. - A wind-fueled wildfire has chased people from nearly 900 homes near the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, officials said.

The blaze sent a light dusting of ash over Leavenworth, where the German-style motif provides a backdrop to Oktoberfest and a Christmas lighting festival.

There was zero containment Wednesday as the flames tore through timber. More heat and winds gusting up to 30 mph were forecast for Thursday.

The fire's smoke plume, visible for miles, rose 25,000 feet into the air. The blaze closed 35 miles of U.S. Highway 2, stretching from Leavenworth to Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains.

"There's a huge cloud of smoke above us," Don Hurst, a retired firefighter who lives just outside of Leavenworth, said Thursday morning. "The winds started to pick up a little. It's just like snowfall here with the ash coming down. It's fine ash. We're getting all this ash fall."

Residents of 860 homes have been told they should leave immediately, fire spokesman Rick Acosta said late Wednesday. A Chelan County emergency management spokeswoman said earlier that another 800 homes were less seriously threatened.

Authorities said Thursday morning that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to nearly 8 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters were on the lines at the Chiwaukum Creek fire, the Mills Canyon blaze near Entiat and a third wildfire. The containment level on the Mills Canyon fire, the state's largest at 35 square miles, held steady at 40 percent.

Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor's offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare states of emergency, a move that allows state officials to call up the National Guard.

State fire assistance was ordered for the Carlton Complex of fires burning in north-central Washington's Methow Valley, where residents of about a dozen homes have been told to leave. Spokesman Jacob McCann said Wednesday evening that complex has burned across 7 square miles with zero containment.

A fire that started Wednesday afternoon in a northeast Oregon field west of Heppner raced quickly across as much as 20,000 acres, or some 30 square miles, before firefighters stopped it, the Morrow County sheriff's office said.

Undersheriff Steven Myren said no homes or other structures were lost, "although the fire did get uncomfortably close to some."

Several other fires have blackened parts of Oregon, while blazes encouraged by dry conditions raged elsewhere in the West