WHITE SALMON, Wash – A wildfire pushed by strong winds blowing through a gorge destroyed four homes on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River and a fifth closer to the water, authorities said.
Fifty to 60 other homes were threatened by the blaze that began Thursday near the bottom of the gorge, then raced uphill through rugged terrain of brush and timber. The fire then settled down overnight as winds subsided, fire officials said.
An unspecified number of people were evacuated in Skamania County and an evacuation center was set up at a school, said Stan Hinatsu, a fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
By early Friday, the fire covered 150 acres and was about 75 percent contained, said Dale Warriner, a spokesman at the fire command center. About 300 firefighters were battling the blaze, aided by four helicopters and three air tankers.
Winds gusted up to 38 mph Thursday, and fire officials were worried because forecasts called for winds to pick up again Friday.
"All it will take is a hot spot to throw some embers across the line and we could be off to the races again," Hinatsu said.
The fire's cause was under investigation.
The Columbia River Gorge is renowned as a windsurfing location because of the funneling effect created by the steep bluffs where the river cuts through the Cascade mountain range on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
In Southern California, a wildfire that scorched more than 14,000 acres — or nearly 22 square miles — in the San Bernardino National Forest was fully contained Thursday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.