GOLDENDALE, Wash. – Nearly 650 firefighters gained the upper hand Saturday on a roughly 4,200-acre blaze in the tinder-dry forests near Washington state's Satus Pass, allowing authorities to lift evacuation orders for many of the roughly 200 threatened homes.
The fire burning 20 miles north of the Columbia River and about 10 miles north of the city of Goldendale was 30 percent contained. The fire has burned through more than 6 square miles, fire incident spokesman Dale Warriner said.
The blaze has burned 64 buildings. Fire officials have confirmed that nine of those structures are homes, but that number is expected to rise upon further investigation.
Authorities could not give an estimate as to how many people were allowed to return home Saturday night, but said orders were lifted for three-fourths of a 29-square-mile area that initially had been evacuated.
The fire started Wednesday along U.S. Highway 97 near a Greek Orthodox monastery. From there, it burned southeast of the highway through steep forested canyons and flat areas with dry grasses and thick stands of Ponderosa pines.
The fire remained under investigation, but it was believed to be human-caused.
Washington is experiencing a fairly late wildfire season after a winter of heavy snow and a cool spring, but the hot, dry conditions of summer have continued well into September — and were expected Saturday.
"The good news is that the winds are light, and firefighters are able to focus on putting the fire out rather than keep it from spreading," fire spokesman Chuck Turley said.
Concerns about wind were expected to pick up again Sunday afternoon when a front is expected to blow through the region, Turley said.
Fire officials were working with local law enforcement, using GPS coordinates, to try to identify whether homes or outbuildings had burned.
Longtime resident Monte Isaacs spent 20 years building his two-story cabin out of salvage lumber. At a public meeting about the fire Friday evening, he recounted watching his home burn as firefighters in the area failed to protect it.
"I'm 61 years old," he said. "I'm not a young man. I don't know where to start over. I don't know if I can."