Hundreds of firefighters battle Chelan Co. wildfires

Hundreds of firefighters battle Chelan Co. wildfires »Play Video
CASHMERE, Wash. - Dozens of homes have been evacuated in Chelan County where wildfires continue to burn Saturday night.

The largest of three fires is in the Nahahum Canyon north of Cashmere near Wenatchee.

A staging area has been set up at the Chelan County Fairgrounds for hundreds of fire crews battling the wildfire.

As of Saturday evening, 53 homes remain under a Level 3 evacuation order - meaning they cannot go back home yet.

A Red Cross shelter has been opened, but nearly everyone is staying with family, friends or at a hotel until the fires back in that canyon get under better control.

"It was scary. When you see flames and flames, and it's so hot, there's no way you can take it all in," says Gunda Rider of the Tri Cities.

It was a restless night on Friday for a lot of people who have homes in Nahahum Canyon. Overnight, hundreds of acres of dry grass, shrubs and trees were swamped by wildfire.

On Saturday afternoon, the Kennard family watched new fires burning in the distance - with helicopter water drops, one after another.

On Friday night, fire and smoke surrounded their home.

"Big flames, because we drove up this way, the flames were on the side of the road - and you could feel the heat coming through our car," says homeowner Monica Kennard. "I almost turned around because I was in panic mode, and I thought I was going to suffocate."

Homeowners scattered throughout the hillsides nervously watched - and prayed the worst would not happen.

People living in roughly 30 houses and mobile homes were told to evacuate.

Like many of the canyons in this area, there have been fires here before. A lot of residents have taken precautions over the years - adding crucial fire breaks around their property.

"It gets pretty dry up here in July and August. We keep it mowed down," says homeowner Garry Kennard.

Fire officials say that's a very smart and necessary move, especially in this terrain.

"They have green area around them, they have rock, they've really been maintained in a manner that allows firefighters to protect them fairly easily," says Koshare Eagle of the Wildfire Response Team.

Another threat all day has been violent thunderstorms, and by mid-afternoon, they hit with a vengeance, filled with lightning and winds that could cause more problems.

A sudden downpour might seem like good news - but fire crews say a slow, soaking rain would have been much better than a complete washout.

So much rain came so quickly that roads up in the canyon have become very slick with lots of mud.

People are not the only ones displaced by the fires. Some animals are temporarily being housed here at the fairgrounds until the all-clear is given to go back home.

Meanwhile, a fire burning in the Wenatchee area is threatening about 100 homes and outbuildings right now.

The "Rainbow Bridge" fire in the Stehekin Valley ballooned to about 4,000 acres overnight. It's burning in extremely steep terrain, which makes it hard for firefighters to get to.

Fire officals say they have about 175 people battling that blaze - it is not contained.

Much like the situation in Cashmere, forecasted thunderstorms are expected to make the situation there worse before it gets better.