Wildfire forces evacuation of Vantage; I-90 to reopen at noon

About 120 people have been evacuated from Vantage as a wildfire that started late Monday night threatens their homes. (WSDOT photo)

VANTAGE, Wash. – The entire town of Vantage and its surrounding area have been evacuated and Interstate 90 has been closed in both directions by a fast-moving wildfire in Central Washington.

The blaze broke out around 11 p.m. Monday and spread very quickly, pushed by winds gusting up to 60 mph, said Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Chief John Sinclair.

By 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, some 200 people had been forced from their homes by the wildfire, Kittitas County sheriff’s officials said.

In addition, a 22-mile stretch of I-90 has been closed in both directions from east of Ellensburg to just east of the Vantage Bridge. Trooper Brian Moore says there is substantial damage to guardrails and blowing smoke and ash is limiting visibility at times.

But WSDOT officials estimate the freeway will reopen at noon.

Until then, eastbound I-90 traffic is stopped at the Kittitas Exit 115, six miles east of Ellensburg, and westbound traffic is stopped at Exit 137, at the Junction of SR-26 on the east side of the Vantage Bridge. No detour is available via local roads.

The wildfire, named the Ryegrass Coulee Fire, has burned about 1,500 to 2,000 acres as of 10 a.m. Tuesday. So far, the blaze is about 3 percent contained.

Several crews, including the state Department of Natural Resources, are working to contain the fire around Vantage, which is directly threatened by the flames. Sinclair said three people chose to remain in their homes when the evacuations were ordered.

Sinclair said the fire had reached the Columbia River bank, but 2-inch embers were blowing across the entire river.

“You would think something as big as the Columbia River would stop a wildfire,” Sinclair said. “Not when you’re battling 60 mph winds.”

One outbuilding has burned and a barn damaged by the flames. Several utility poles also have burned.

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office has worked with the Red Cross to establish a shelter for the evacuees at George Community Hall, 403 W. Montmorency Blvd., in the town of George.

Fire officials also are asking people at Wanapum State Park to find shelter where they are because Huntzinger Road is closed.

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