Weather gives fire crews small break

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YAKIMA, Wash. — After two weeks of frantic firefighting, the series of fires in the Yakima Complex are mostly contained.

But the Yakima Valley will continue to be enveloped in a smoky haze until at least tonight, forecasters say, with an air quality alert in place for vulnerable populations.

The Wenatchee Complex and Table Mountain fires, however, are only minimally contained, with more than 3,000 firefighters on the ground battling the blazes and more than 70,000 acres consumed so far.

Authorities have been concerned the two fires could merge, but as of Sunday evening they were still about two miles apart.

Firefighters across Central Washington made good progress over the weekend, aided by cooler weather, higher humidity and only light winds.

Smoke, however, lingers in areas far from the fires, including Walla Walla County.

“All the fire that we have going on is within the present fire lines,” said Steve Stine, information officer with the Table Mountain fire. “It’s still burning, but it’s within our present line.”

Authorities say the Yakima Complex fires are 70 percent contained.

As of Tuesday morning, patrol responsibilities will be transferred back to local control, in the hands of the Naches Ranger District, Cle Elum Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service and the southeast region of the Department of Natural Resources.

“The weather has definitely been in our favor,” said Sarah Foster, information officer with the Yakima Complex incident command.

About 700 firefighters are still on site at various the Yakima Complex fires, including many crews from out-of-state.

The National Weather Service has an air quality alert in effect through tonight, advising that young children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory conditions stay inside and limit activity.

The forecast calls for light winds of 5 to 10 mph today, and patchy smoke remaining at least through Tuesday morning, said meteorologist Vincent Papal in Pendleton, Ore. But air quality has improved over last week, when many local schools canceled recess and postponed or relocated outdoor athletic events.

At Table Mountain, the 30,434-acre blaze was only about 10 percent contained as of Sunday. Firefighters were focusing on tying together existing fire lines, but didn’t have updated acreage or containment numbers because the smoke was so thick that visibility was too poor for crews to take infrared scans from the air.

The Wenatchee Complex continues to have the highest number of firefighters, with more than 2,000 personnel aided by 10 helicopters, 144 fire engines and 13 bulldozers. The 42,508-acre fire is 30 percent contained, with 200 homes currently under mandatory evacuation, the Associated Press reported.

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