(SOURCE) A grass fire fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions quickly grew out of control in central Washington Sunday night, consuming homes and businesses and forcing dozens of evacuations as it threatened to burn through additional structures.
The so-called Sleepy Hollow fire started outside of Wenatchee, Washington, Sunday afternoon, but winds drove the flames directly toward Wenatchee, creating a nightmarish situation for firefighters who struggled to bring the fire under control, KOMO News reports.
No serious injuries have been reported.
Due to an ongoing heat wave in the Northwest, temperatures in Wenatchee were still in the 90’s as of midnight local time, according to weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman.
“Light surface winds eventually shifted northwesterly up to 15 mph Sunday evening into the overnight hours,” said Erdman. “Showers moved over Wenatchee, but only produced a trace of rain, given the dry air in place.”
As a result, the fire had reached homes and businesses within hours. According to the Wenatchee World, the first homes burned after 8 p.m. local time.
The flames also spread to businesses, burning through Michelsen Packaging, Northern Wholseale Inc. and the Bluebird fruit warehouse, the Wenatchee World reports. Propane and other chemical tanks at the businesses caught fire and exploded, sending a plume of flames into the night sky.
At around midnight local time, emergency responders were worried that the flames could lead to an ammonia leak at Bluebird, and instructed residents nearby to “stay inside, close all windows and doors, turn off all ventilation systems and seal themselves inside a room if possible” to prevent potential exposure.
The Wenatchee World reported the scent of chemicals permeated the air throughout the town.
Multiple streets in Wenatchee were evacuated as flames threatened additional buildings. For the location of all mandatory and voluntary evacuations, click here for the Chelan County Emergency Management Office.
According to the Chelan County Emergency Management office, 155 people have checked into a Red Cross shelter at the local high school as of early Monday morning. At least 1,000 people left their homes, the Associated Press reported.
“We’ve got hundreds of homes under evacuation notices,” said Rich Magnussen in the AP report. He’s a spokesperson for the Chelan County Emergency Management office.
Most of Chelan County is mired in moderate drought, as of the last release of the U.S. Drought Monitor, creating abnormally dry conditions. Those conditions are only amplified by the ongoing extreme heatwave in the Northwest.
According to senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman, temperatures soared to 109 degrees at Wenatchee’s airport Sunday.
“That’s an all-time record for June, and just one degree shy of the city’s all-time record set on July 17-18, 1941,” said Erdman.
“While the heat is not expected to be nearly as impressive as Sunday, the threat of thunderstorms with frequent cloud-to-ground lightning and shifting winds may lead to more fire starts in the heat-stricken Northwest.”
Wenatchee, Washington, is located more than 100 miles east of Seattle in the central part of the state and is home to more than 30,000 people.