By DAN WHEAT
ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Rain from a thunderstorm aided the battle against the Colockum Tarps Fire in the late afternoon of Aug. 1, reducing its threat to the Kittitas Valley and Ellensburg.
The fire is within 17 miles but the city and surrounding valley farm land are in no imminent danger, said Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for an interagency fire team based in Wenatchee.
The fire received only about one-tenth of an inch of rain while Wenatchee received an inch, Fitzgerald said.
"The fire didn't get as much rain as we did here in Wenatchee, but it was still very helpful," she said.
The key area of concern is the western flank and completing the last six miles of fireline there, Fitzgerald said. Northwest winds are pushing against the fire and the relative humidity is favorable, she said. Some evacuation levels were reduced, she said.
The fire is now estimated at 80,402 acres, 30 percent contained and is being fought by 833 firefighters and support staff, 90 fire engines, 15 water tankers, seven bulldozers and two helicopters, she said.
Nearly 300 firefighters worked hard Aug. 1 constructing four miles of fireline on the western flank that "made all the difference" in stopping the fire's westerly advance, said Mike Asher, south branch operations section chief. Dozers and crews have constructed more than 20 miles of firelines on the north and west sides.
Ground crews, planes and helicopters saved seven homes in the Park Creek area north of the Wild Horse Wind Farm on July 31, Fitzgerald said. The homes were surrounded by fire and three outhouses burned, she said. The line from the Columbia River north of the wind farm through Park Creek to Beacon Ridge Road is in controlled mop up, she said.
Lightning from the storm ignited a fire north of Wenatchee that a hotshot crew was attacking, Fitzgerald said. There also were reports of minor lightning-strike fires, one in Chelan Hills, one south of Waterville at the north edge of Badger Mountain and a third near the rim of Badger Mountain.
The Colockum Tarps Fire threat to the Wild Horse Wind Farm, operated by Puget Sound Energy of Bellevue, appeared less on Aug. 1 than the day before, said Christina Donegan, PSE's manager of strategic communications.
"We are monitoring it carefully, it's hard to say," she said when asked the potential damage if fire burns through the farm. She said fires have burned through other wind farms in the past with minimal damage.
The farm's 149 turbines on towers 221 feet tall are surrounded by gravel and some transmission poles are coated with fire retardant, Donegan said. Some of the system is underground. She said a power substation is a top priority and that a visitor center is closed.