"Exploding" Wildfires Prompt Evacuations

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Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 3:25pm

Washington State firefighters say three fires currently burning could merge into one massive blaze.

The column of smoke rising from Washington's Table Mountain between Cle Elum and Ellensburg on Wednesday evening was reminiscent of the ash cloud from the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

Firefighters expect the three fires in the area to merge into one - a fire described by one firefighter as a monster.

Teams spent the afternoon going from house to house.

Those they could save get a green ribbon, those marked with a red one can't be safely defended and will be written off.

Large plumes of ash are being carried in all directions, but the ash also carries sparks and at one point the fire was moving so fast it was jumping a mile ahead of itself.

Eight-inch chunks of burning bark were falling miles away, into Mission Ridge.

Thick smoke from central Washington wildfires kept residents indoors in some communities Wednesday and forced schools to relocate weekend sporting events, as the advancing flames prompted more evacuations and the closure of a major highway.

Thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires that were sparked by lightning earlier this month up and down the east slope of the Cascades.

Some of the blazes are small and in remote areas, but hundreds of residents have been evacuated or warned to be ready to flee near fire large fire complexes burning in the region.

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