With the Taylor Bridge fire now 91% contained, management of the blaze has shifted from a Type 2 Washington Incident Management team to the smaller Washington Southwest Regional Incident Type 3 Team.
The incoming team will focus on putting out hot spots near structures and the fireline, repairing fences destroyed by the fire, rehabilitating bulldozer lins in and around the fire area, and recovering equipment used to fight the fire including hoses and pumps.
At its peak, more than 1,000 people were assigned to the fire. Now that number is only 150.
Many people whose homes were endangered by the wildfire in the Cle Elum area have begun returning to their homes, but even the lucky ones whose property escaped damage have a huge mess to clean up.
Nearly 182,000 gallons of retardant were dumped on the wildfire last week -- and on everything in the area. Retardant is made up of ammonia nitrate, mixed in with detergent, and colored red.And many homeowners are on their own.
“You kind of walk around in circles, not completing anything,” said resident Margo Cushing, who lives in the Sunlight Waters area near Cle Elum. “All the rocks and fields, everything is red. We look out our living room and all you see is red.”
It`s been 80 hours of scrubbing and power-washing for Cushing and her husband while others have opted for professional crews to do the cleaning.
Fellow resident James Ihrke's home and car were completely covered by the red-colored retardant. Even the inside of Ihrke's home needs a good scrub down, after the retardant seeped in through a kitchen window that was left open.
“I expect the worst; hope for the best, never disappointed,” said ,Ihrke.
He added that he is just happy to have a place to call home.
Experts say the cleaning method for getting rid of the retardant varies depending on the type of home, and the best thing to do is call the Emergency Operations Center at 509-933-8305 for the best advice.
The wildfire has charred 23,334 acres -- or about 36 square miles -- between Cle Elum and Ellensburg since it started Monday, Aug. 13.
Kittitas County said in a statement that at least 51 houses and cabins were destroyed and six others were damaged; 26 other structures were also damaged. The county has estimated the losses totaled about $8.3 million.
In addition, more than 450 people and hundreds of livestock had to be evacuated during the course of the fire.
No one was injured, except for a firefighter who sustained minor facial burns.More than 1,000 firefighters, aided by water- and retardant-dropping air tankers and helicopters, have been fighting the fire.
The fire started at 1:20 p.m. Aug. 13 in a Washington State Department of Transportation construction area at the Taylor Road Bridge, while workers were carrying about various construction activities, the WSDOT said. The exact cause or source of the fire was unknown. The fire's initial rapid eastward expansion was fueled by winds of up to 35 mph and dry vegetation.
Cle Elum, a small town about 80 miles southeast of Seattle, on the eastern slope of the Cascades, has a population of 1,872, according to the 2010 Census. It is a rural area known for its horse farms.
Meanwhile, donations for the people who have lost their homes, clothing and food to the fire have been so overwhelming that the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office on Monday set up a team of five people to specifically manage the huge volume of donations coming in from all over the state.
In fact, sheriff’s deputies say the outpouring of generosity has been so big, it caught them off-guard. And with that, the sheriff's office is warning potential donors to stay alert and to never donate cash to a person you don`t know.
“I think the biggest red flag is somebody specifically asking you for money. The only (organization) really asking for cash is the Red Cross and then an account has been set up at Cashmere Valley Bank for people to donate money for animal rescue,” said Undersheriff Clayton Myers.