People living near Jolly Mountain Fire increasingly worried as fire grows

For the first time since lightning started this fire Aug. 11, fire crews took KIRO7 to the front lines of the fire to show the work they're doing to keep people safe.

PHOTOS: Jolly Mountain wildfire burns near Cle Elum

Though more than 800 firefighters are working 24-hour shifts, and 128 members of the National Guard arrived Wednesday to help with the effort, the fire has now burned more than 24,500 acres and continues growing every day. 

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It means the people who live in the town of Roslyn, just a few miles from the fire, are getting increasingly concerned.

Fire crews have been dealing with nearly four weeks of flames, eating up forest. 

“This is not contained, this is the fire. This is not a backburn, this is the fire itself backing down the hillside,” said Kale Casey, the PIO for the Pacific Northwest National Command Team in Kittitas County.

Nearly 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

The mountain vegetation is crisp and dry. Fire crews say Japanese beetles have also killed six or seven out of every 10 trees – that and the dry weather has turned much of the forest into kindling.

Crews say right now, the biggest concern is that the fire has burned over the mountain ridge, and is slowly making its way down the mountain toward homes. Crews have made a huge effort to keep the ground near homes wet, and dig up vegetation leaving dirt paths around homes, so the fire will stop before it reaches any structures.

So far, no homes have been damaged.

“Our main mission is life and property,” Casey said.

Crews took advantage of low winds Wednesday to add some backburn, to eat up the fuel that keeps pushing the fire forward.

At the mountain’s base is the town of Roslyn, where about 1,000 more people are on level two evacuation status.

That means they have to be packed and ready to go, at a moment’s notice.

“Everybody in this town is just a little nervous. They don’t want to think about their homes burning down,” said Ron Lintz, who lives in the town.

He says it’s tough to cope with the constant smoke.

“It’s really bad. Your eyes burn, your throat hurts all the time, you can’t breathe,” Lintz said.

He said the fire is also keeping away from the town.

“It’s hurting business bad. This place is usually bustling from one end to the other,” he said.

Lintz says they’re putting their hopes with fire crews and Mother Nature.

“Once the embers come up there and the winds start whipping around, you don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said. “We’re hoping and praying.”

Fire crews say they'll be in the Cle Elum and Roslyn area for at least several more weeks because after they get fire near the homes under control, they’ll start tackling the fire on the northern and western edges. But at this time, the fire is still considered 0 percent contained.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency for all counties in the state of Washington due to wildfire dangers.

Read the full statement from Governor Inslee below: 

PROCLAMATION BY THE GOVERNOR 17-12

WHEREAS, since June 2017, we have experienced drier than normal weather conditions with periods of above average temperatures throughout the State which, when combined with projected weather and fire fuel conditions for early September, present a high risk of severe wildfires throughout the State of Washington; and

WHEREAS, current weather forecasts predict continuing elevated temperatures throughout the State for the next seven days, providing hot and dry conditions that, combined with the existing high-risk fire fuel conditions, support an active burning environment capable of producing significant multiple wildfires requiring the need for additional immediate response throughout the State; and

WHEREAS, the Jolly Mountain Fire in Kittitas County, which has been burning since August 11, has grown to over 14,500 acres and is threatening local communities, homes and businesses, resulting in road closures and the issuance of evacuation notices by local authorities for some threatened areas; and

WHEREAS, the threat to life and property from existing and threatened wildfires throughout the State is extreme and could cause extensive damage to homes, public facilities, businesses, public utilities, and infrastructure impacting the life and health of people throughout Washington State, all of which affect life, health, property, or the public peace, and is a public disaster demanding immediate action; and

WHEREAS, current availability of firefighting resources throughout the state of Washington and the western United States is limited due to existing and projected fire conditions and activities throughout the region, and existing firefighting resources may already be committed to fighting wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest; and

WHEREAS, because available firefighting resources may not be adequate to address the outbreak of simultaneous large wildfires resulting from the above noted conditions, the Washington National Guard and State Guard may be needed to assist local jurisdictions and state agencies throughout the state of Washington with this public disaster and for the public health, safety and welfare; and

WHEREAS, the Washington Military Department has activated the State Emergency Operations Center, implemented response procedures, is coordinating resources to support state and local officials in alleviating the immediate social and economic impacts to people, property and infrastructure, and is continuing to assess the wildfire danger resulting from existing high risk weather and fire fuel conditions.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jay Inslee, Governor of the state of Washington, as a result of the above-noted situation, and under Chapters 38.08, 38.52 and 43.06 RCW, do hereby proclaim that a State of Emergency exists in all Counties in the state of Washington, and direct the plans and procedures of the Washington State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan be implemented. State agencies and departments are directed to utilize state resources and to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions in an effort to respond to and recover from the incidents.

As a result of this event, I also hereby order into active state service the organized militia of Washington State to include the National Guard and the State Guard, or such part thereof as may be necessary in the opinion of The Adjutant General, to perform such duties as directed by competent authority of the Washington Military Department in addressing this event. Additionally, the Washington State Emergency Operations Center is instructed to coordinate all incident-related assistance to the affected areas.

Signed and sealed with the official seal of the state of Washington on this 2nd day of September A.D., Two Thousand and Seventeen at Olympia, Washington.

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