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Firefighters Continue To Make Progress On Washington Fire

Eddie Sanderson Photography / AP / File

In this June 22, 2015, photo provided by Eddie Sanderson, smoke rises from a fire in Markleeville, Calif.

Eddie Sanderson Photography / AP / File

6:45 p.m. - Crews continue to make progress on the Washington Fire, as officials report 29 percent containment as of early Friday evening. The size of the burn area has grown slightly, to 17,622 acres.

There are now 1,173 personnel assigned to the incident. The lightning-started fire has been burning 3 miles south of Markleeville for one week.

Highways 4 and 89 in the Monitor and Ebbetts Pass areas remain closed. The Pacific Crest Trail remains open.

Resources assigned to the Washington fire include the following; 34 crews, 53 engines, 12 water tenders, 11 helicopters and support personnel.


8:48 a.m. - Light winds have helped 951 firefighters make progress on the Washington Fire, south of Markleeville in Alpine County.

The lightning-caused wildfire was 15 percent contained Friday morning, June 26.  The fire has burned 16,490 acres. The fire size is a reduction from Thursday's figure due to "more accurate mapping."

The U.S. Forest Service reports that the fire was most active on the southern flank, west of Wolf Creek Meadows in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.

Denise Alonzo with the Forest Service said crews made progress in constructing the fire line the past four days.

"We have firefighters all around the fire at this time and they are securing the perimeter, which means that they are stopping the spread of fire from going beyond where it is now," Alonzo said Thursday.

She said crews worked to secure the fire perimeter enough so that "it will hold through the next storm system," which is forecast to bring dry lightning and thunderstorms.

"We will keep the current staffing level and resources actively working on the fire through the weekend, but there is a concern for other fires that may be started in the area,"said Alonzo. "If that happens, some of our aircraft could be loaned to those new fires."

She said fire crews are working on contingency plans in advance of predicted thunderstorms that are forecast in the area Friday through Sunday. Those storms are expected to start dry, with a threat of dry lightning, which could start more wildfires in the extremely dry Sierra Nevada.

Alonzo said the storms are forecast to become wetter Sunday, which could cause mud or debris flows from the burned areas.

"One of the main concerns is strong and erratic winds," said Alonzo.

She said the forecast of stronger winds, was one reason crews set controlled burns. 

"Those activities were successful in order to prevent the fire from spreading further, if we do get some of those erratic winds that are expected in the fire area this weekend," said Alonzo.

Priority: Prevent Fire From Reaching Markleeville

Alonzo said the fire has burned within three miles of Markleeville.

"The spread of the fire has been away from Markleeville in the last day or so," said Alonzo. "So, we’re feeling more and more confident, as we secure the perimeter of the fire, that we’re successfully going to be able to protect Markleeville."

She said Markleeville residents are still under an evacuation advisory issued by Alpine County Sheriff’s Department. But no mandatory evacuations are in effect as of Friday.  

Alonzo said Highways 4 and 89 in the Monitor and Ebbetts Pass areas will remain closed through the weekend.

There are 27 crews, 50 engines, 12 water tenders and 11 helicopters working the wildfire, which is burning in the Humboldt-Toyiabe National Forest.

Fire officials said the Washington Fire was started by lightning from storms in the region June 9, before it was spotted June 19.

Fire Restrictions in Nevada, California

Fire restrictions go into effect June 26 for Western Nevada and eastern California due to "tinder-dry vegetation, exceptional drought conditions, increasing daytime temperatures, and several human-caused fires."

"Vegetation in western Nevada and eastern California is significantly dryer for this time of year," officials said in issuing the restrictions. "Below average moisture this past winter and spring along with warmer than average temperatures have increased the rate of vegetation dry-out."

Cal Fire and Forest Service officials have mentioned the on-going drought as one factor in several recent wildfires in California, including the Washington Fire.

"The vegetation is feeling the stress from more than three years of drought and historically low snowpack in the mountains this past winter," said Jose Acosta, with the U.S. Forest Service, when describing the spread of the Washington Fire.