Washington Fire Crews Work to Protect Threatened Homes

TIETON, Wash. (AP) -- The president of a fruit packing company has vowed to rebuild after a fire caused about $25 million in damage, and firefighters to the north tried to hold the line against a wildfire threatening hundreds of homes.

High winds that had pushed the Fischer fire into dry brush and grass about 20 miles northwest of Wenatchee subsided down slightly Wednesday, a day after the jumped one canyon, destroyed one home and damaged another residence and a shed.

The blaze was estimated at 12,856 acres Wednesday night with 30 percent containment, fire information officer Gail Roberts said.

Gov. Gary Locke said he would visit the fire command center in Leavenworth on Thursday.

Residents in two canyons to the north and west were allowed to return home early Wednesday after the fire moved away from that area, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Robin DeMario said.

Firefighters labored to protect structures in canyons that remained evacuated as the fire burned to the east. In Hay Canyon, crews cut back brush, moved woodpiles away from homes and wrapped some houses with protective foil.

At least 160 homes were under a mandatory evacuation notice, and residents of hundreds of others remained on notice they might have to leave, too, information officer John Bearer said.

Fire crews were trying to build a fire line up Hay Canyon and a tie-in with Olalla Canyon to encircle the fire around Tibbetts Mountain.

``We're hoping that will hold it,'' Roberts said.

About 200 people came to Cashmere High School on Wednesday night to hear a report from Chelan County sheriff's deputies and state and federal forest officials on the fire, she said.

More than 1,500 firefighters were assigned to the human-caused blaze, which has been burning since Aug. 8 on private, state and national land. No one has been injured.

In Tieton, northwest of Yakima, a fire that burned three fruit warehouses, three ammonia tanks and a propane tank remained under investigation.

The fire started Tuesday night in cardboard packaging stored next to CPC International Apple Co., and 150 people were evacuated after when high winds carried embers a mile away and ignited grass fires.

Deanna Latham, a secretary for CPC International for seven years who lives across the street from one of the warehouses, voluntarily left her home as soon as she saw the flames.

``It was scary. We were just hoping the wind didn't shift,'' she said.

CPC International president Peter Hancock vowed to rebuild. With about 300 workers, the company is the largest employer in this town of about 1,100.

``We rebuilt this place once before and we'll do it again,'' Hancock said.

In 1997, several of the company's old buildings collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.

The company has been operating nonstop through the apple harvest. Company officials were working to negotiate leases with the owners of several unused fruit packing buildings so employees could immediately get back to work, Hancock said.

Elsewhere, firefighters continued to battle several wildfires started by lightning.

At Mount Rainier National Park, rain extinguished three of seven small fires ignited by lightning on the east side. The four remaining fires were burning in spruce, fir and huckleberry. All park roads and trails remained open.

The Williams Butte fire, just inside the Sawtooth Wilderness 17 miles northwest of Twisp, grew to about 720 acres Wednesday. About 300 people were assigned to the blaze, information officer Troy Kinghorn said.

About 500 firefighters were assigned to the Pot Peak-Sisi Ridge complex of three fires, which have blackened a total of 47,470 acres near Lake Chelan and were 85 percent contained as of late Wednesday.

The Dirty Face fire near Lake Wenatchee was estimated at 295 acres of heavy brush and timber in very steep terrain.

About 30 firefighters were assigned to the Rattlesnake Peak fire, which has burned 775 acres about 40 miles west of Yakima.