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Two Large Wildfires Burning East Of The Cascades In Washington

Two wildfires in north-central Washington are being managed as one. Fresh firefighters poured in Thursday to battle the Sutherland Canyon Fire, which grew dramatically overnight. The Spartan Fire near Wenatchee is transitioning to mop-up.

Strong winds Wednesday led to dramatic growth in the Sutherland Canyon Fire in the hills north of the farm town of Quincy. The fire is threatening dozens of rural homes and habitat for protected sage grouse.

The fire gave quite a scare to a pocket of homeowners on a hillside above Quincy. Gail Motzcus said a last-minute wind change steered the wildfire away from the home she shares with her husband.

“Our metal shop over there is completely surrounded by gravel. So he knows it’s not going to burn up,” she said. “We take anything from the house that we want like our photo albums and stuff and we move them over to the shop. It didn’t get to anyone’s houses. But yeah, it’s terrible that we have to get used to this stupid stuff. Not fun to get used to this.”

A Type 2 incident management team took command of the two fires today. That entails more robust staffing with more experienced commanders. Incident command spokesman Randy Shepard expects around 500 people to be assigned to the wildfire by this evening.

“They bring the caterers, the showers, all the support facilities for the firefighters,” he said. “It looks like a small town being put together.”

Crews are coming from all over the region to fight this fire—including as far away as Umatilla, Oregon to the south and the Seattle suburbs to the west.

The Grant County Sheriff's Department Thursday put more ranches and homeowners on notice to get ready to evacuate in case the large wildfire goes on a tear again.

Lightning is suspected of causing the 47,500-acre wildfire. It is currently 20 percent contained.

Firefighters are having better luck with the 9,000-acre Spartan Fire south of Wenatchee, where containment lines held the fire's spread overnight. Crews appear to have gained the upper hand and are shifting into mop-up mode. The lightning-sparked fire was listed as 60 percent contained at midday Thursday.

No structures were lost to that fire.

Weather conditions improved somewhat in Quincy Thursday, which should help fire crews establish containment lines. Both fires are burning grass and brush. A wet winter and spring made invasive, highly flammable cheatgrass grow tall and thick.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.