Calm winds help crews battle wildfires near White Salmon

WHITE SALMON, Wash. - Two wildfires burning five miles north of here lit up the sky Wednesday night forcing the evacuation of dozens of homes and threatening hundreds of others.

Thursday morning, forest service officials added more homes along Indian Creek Road in White Salmon to an evacuation alert list, which does not mandate an evacuation.

Fire officials say the flames have charred about 1,570 acres and are burning out of control in grass, timber and brush in steep terrain. State Highway 141 was closed.

Firefighters first got word of four separate fires burning around 1:40 p.m. Two fires were quickly extinguished, but two others quickly grew, according to Debbie Robinson with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Fire officials ordered the evacuation of 30 homes and put residents in at least 400 others on alert, telling them they may need to be evacuated on short notice. However, schools in White Salmon were in session without any closures or delays Thursday morning, district officials said.

Firefighters attacked the fires from the air and from the ground on Wednesday. A plane roared overhead, dropping fire retardant, and two helicopters thundered through the clear sky above the choking smoke, targeting the flames with water drops. Below, three 20-person crews battled the flames on the ground with 27 engines and six bulldozers.

At 6:30 p.m. the Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste authorized the use of state resources at the request of Klickitat County Fire District No. 3. That sent additional crews and equipment to the fight the fire.

On Wednesday, Christie Gensler watched the fire creep toward her backdoor as it came within 150 feet of her home.

"It was actually on my property, and it was really time to leave," she said. "The firefighters saved it. The helicopter came in and took water out of the pond - actually put the fire out that was on the property."

Josh Billette and his family disregarded the initial order to leave his home, preferring instead to stand guard. Billette said if the fire gets too close he'd probably send his family away and do what he could to save his house.

While the dry grass and timber made for easy fuel, firefighters were aided by the lack of wind, leaving people like Gensler optimistic.

"Hopefully, by morning I can go home, but we'll have to wait and see," she said, adding that she will head toward town to sleep in her horse trailer overnight. Other evacuees were invited to sleep at the local fire hall.

So far no homes have been damaged and no injuries have been reported.

The fires are burning along the highway between White Salmon and Husum, Wash.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

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