Western fire evacuees return home

Friday , August 17, 2012 - 3:15 PM

Nicholas K. Geranios

SPOKANE, Wash.— Hundreds of people in Washington and California who fled encroaching flames from wildfires were allowed to return to their homes Friday, and in Washington many were to find out whether their property was spared by a huge blaze that burned out of control for much of the week.

"Some people will find their homes there and others will find homes damaged or even lost," said Mick Mueller, a spokesman at the fire command center.

Meanwhile some residents of rural central Idaho were told to evacuate by late Friday as blazes continued to burn throughout the West.

In Washington, people were returning to the south and east sides of the 35-square mile Taylor Bridge Fire near the town of Cle Elum in the Cascade Range, about 75 miles east of Seattle. The 22,700-acre fire was about one-third contained on Friday.

"The folks will have to be working among fallers dropping hazardous trees and utility crews working to get the power back on in there," Mueller said. "And firefighters are still working in there trying to put out hot spots."

About 900 firefighters with eight helicopters continued building a line around the fire.

The fire broke out Monday at a bridge construction project and exploded through dry grass, brush and trees to burn about 70 homes and 200 outbuildings on the east side of the Cascades. The fire burned on the north side of Interstate 90 about 75 miles east of Seattle. More than 400 people evacuated.

Firefighters hope to have the fire contained Sunday.

But the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for high wildfire danger in effect through Saturday night on the east side of the Cascades. In addition to the hot, dry conditions, there’s a chance for dry thunderstorms Saturday evening with lightning that could start more fires.

"We’re kind of on edge about that," Mueller said.

In other states:

—In Idaho, authorities have told some Custer County residents to evacuate by Friday afternoon because of a nearing wildfire. To the south in Elmore County, firefighters were still working to protect two threatened towns from another huge blaze. The Custer County sheriff’s office issued an evacuation notice Thursday night, warning residents from Sunbeam Store to Loon Creek Summit that if they don’t evacuate by 5 p.m. Friday officials cannot guarantee their safety.

—In California, hundreds of people who were ordered to leave their rural homes because of San Diego County wildfires were being allowed to return. State fire officials say evacuation orders were lifted Friday for about 400 people in the communities of Ranchita and San Felipe. Flames came within a half-mile of some houses but none burned.

———

Associated Press writers Doug Esser in Seattle and Jessie L. Bonner in Boise contributed to this report.

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