The Mills Canyon fire continues to burn south and west of the central Washington town of Entiat. Dry fuels consisting of short grass, brush, and scattered timber on steep, rocky terrain challenge suppression efforts for fire crews. Cooperating agencies include U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Washington State Department of Natural Resources, (WA DNR), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Chelan County Emergency Management, the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, and Chelan County Fire District 8.
The predicted thunderstorms had only minimal effects on the fire. Isolated showers did drop up to ¼ inch of rain on the western edge of the fire, but other areas received no moisture. Although the heat persisted, crews made excellent progress in extending and strengthening both primary and contingency firelines. Precautionary preparations to protect private property south of the fire continued. Fire officials were pleased with the progress, but cautioned that securing some sections of that perimeter remain to be completed.
A Heat Advisory has been issued by the National Weather Service for today. Maximum temperatures are predicted to reach 106 degrees. Relative humidity will be low (very dry air). Wind direction will shift to the west and southwest with gusts up to 12 mph.
The critical operation for today is bringing the containment line on the southern flank of the fire down to the bottom of Swakane Canyon.
The current line is midway up the slope with unburned fuel below it. That presents safety concerns for firefighters and high potential for burning material to roll below the line. Armed with knowledge of the intense fire history in that locale, fire managers decided to relocate the line to a more defensible position and burn out the remaining fuel up to the old line. A burn out is literally fighting fire with fire by lighting successive narrow strips of fire parallel to the line progressively further interior from the line. The desired result is to consume much of the fuel near the ground without allowing it to establish in the tree tops or other aerial fuels. The goal is to slow and cool the approaching fire front by reducing the available fuel.
Additional staffing is being dedicated to this critical operation, including contingency forces south of the canyon on Burch Mountain. Planned for mid-morning, firing will begin approximately four miles up Swakane Canyon and move down toward Highway 97A. The operation is anticipated to produce a noticeable increase in visible smoke which may cause concern for the observing public; however, the duration should be limited.
Actions on the remainder of the fire will be very similar to yesterday. The emphasis will be on completing the northwest segment of primary line. Precautionary structure protection preparation will also continue in neighborhoods south of Burch Mountain. An initial attack group has been designated to respond to new fire starts within the Mills Canyon vicinity and assist local agencies.
Smoke may be heavy at times in the Entiat River valley and Wenatchee, particularly down valley from the Mills Canyon Fire. The elderly, children, and anyone with compromised respiratory health are advised to take precautions by limiting exposure to the smoke until conditions improve. The Chelan-Douglas County Health District provides local air quality advisories (www.cdhd.wa.gov).
Motorists traveling in the area of the Mills Canyon Fire may encounter closures on Highway 97A in the vicinity of Swakane Canyon during the burn out. Extra vigilance and caution are also advised due to heavy fire equipment traffic and potential distractions due to the operations.
Fire danger remains high across Eastern Washington. Be sure to check with your fire agencies for restrictions, forest and state closures.
Level 1: Highway 97A from Wenatchee to the Entiat River Road, along the Entiat River Road from Roaring Creek Road to Ardenvoir, Eagle Rock/Burch Mountain area, Nahahum Canyon beyond the end of the pavement, Hay Canyon beyond the end of the pavement and Olalla Canyon beyond the end of the pavement (a total of approximately 433 structures).
Level 2: 51 structures on the south side of the Entiat River Road between Mile Post 1.5 and Dinkelman Canyon and Swakane Canyon.
Level 3: 37 structures on the southwest side of Entiat River Road from Dinkelman Canyon to Roaring Creek Road and the entire Roaring Creek Road.
Chelan County official in consultation with the incident management team are regularly evaluating evacuation levels and making adjustments as conditions dictate. For additional information on evacuation levels or road closures, please refer to the Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page.
Level 1: Alert – Residents should be aware of the danger that exists in their area, and monitor local media outlets for information. Evacuations at this time are voluntary.
Level 2: Be Ready – This level indicates there is significant danger to your area, and residents should either voluntarily relocate to a shelter or with family/friends outside of the effected area, or if choosing to remain, to be ready at a moment’s notice.
Level 3: Leave Immediately – Danger to your area is current or imminent, and you should leave immediately.
The Red Cross is evaluating the continuing need for a shelter. For additional information contact the Wenatchee Red Cross at 509-663-3907