CLE ELUM, Wash. — Kathy Van Geystel’s return to her neighborhood was, she said, like visiting another planet.
Pinkish-orange fire retardant covered homes, cars and streets.
There was charred earth, blackened grass and scorched evergreens. Where homes once stood, only ash and mangled metal remain.
At 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, she and her neighbors in Sunlight Waters, southeast of Cle Elum, had been ordered evacuate.
“It was dark and smoky,” she said. “You couldn’t even see half a block.”
On Friday, she and others returned to find out whether they still had a home. She did, but others were not so fortunate.
In one place, two trailers were reduced to twisted metal. But just next door, a wood house with a metal roof was unscathed.
Elsewhere across the tinder-dry grass, sage and scrub timberlands of northern Kittitas County, it was also a day of mixed news from the fire lines as the 22,787-acre Taylor Bridge Fire entered its fifth day.
Firefighters, whose numbers now stand at 955, increased containment from 25 percent to 33 percent by Friday. But a new evacuation advisory went out in the afternoon on the northern line when a spot fire broke out near Emerick Road after flames leaped a fire line. It was the first time the line had been compromised since Tuesday.
Two engine strike teams, five helicopters and two air tankers were dispatched to keep the fire, last reported at about 10 acres, from spreading.
“Right now it’s the priority,” said Randy Shepard, an incident command spokesman.
Friday’s hotter, drier weather may have contributed to the fire’s spread, Shepard said.
Elsewhere, however, firefighters continued to make headway despite temperatures that reached 100 degrees.
“We are feeling very good about it. But there is huge potential for fire growth given the weather conditions,” said Nathan Rabe, deputy incident commander.
Along the fire’s northern border, where steep and rugged terrain has made firefighting difficult, crews used existing roads and natural barriers and bulldozers to bolster containment lines. A plane using infrared technology was flown late Thursday night to map and identify hot spots.
Weather is of particular concern.
A National Weather Service Red Flag Warning for very hot, dry and unstable conditions remains in effect over the next two days, with temperatures predicted as high as 100 degrees.
Lightning also remains a concern today, Rabe said.
There’s a 15 percent chance of a thunderstorm reaching the eastern Cascades by this morning, increasing to 30 percent by late afternoon, according to the Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore.
Since starting Monday, the fire has destroyed about 70 primary homes and an estimated 100 structures, such as barns and outbuilding.
Fire officials are calling it Washington’s most destructive fire in decades.
Not since the 1991 Firestorm Complex fire near Spokane, which raged through three counties and destroyed more than 100 homes, has there been such a devastating fire, state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Bryan Flint said.
“This fire is pretty much the biggest since then in terms of homes.”