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Originally published Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 8:40 AM

Forest fire near Leavenworth shuts section of Highway 2

More than 150 firefighters Thursday night were battling steep terrain, giant boulders and falling trees in a 200-acre forest fire at Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth that shut down a 15-mile stretch of Highway 2.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes I live a few miles from Leavenworth and I can definitely see and smell the smoke this... Read more

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More than 150 firefighters Thursday night were battling steep terrain, giant boulders and falling trees in a 200-acre forest fire at Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth that shut down a 15-mile stretch of Highway 2.

The fire, in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, began Wednesday and quickly spread to about 2 acres. By Thursday morning it was 100 acres and by the end of the day, it had doubled in size.

The fire was mostly on federal forestland but had spread to a section of private timberland, said Susan Peterson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

As of Thursday night, no structures had been damaged and no injuries had been reported — other than a firefighter who was stung by a bee, she said. The Tumwater campground is closed.

Recreational drivers heading to Leavenworth had to take a small detour.

Vehicles were being routed from Coles Corner (Milepost 84) to Icicle Road (Milepost 99), adding only about 10 minutes to the drive, Peterson said. The detour takes drivers through the small town of Plain.

Box trucks were being allowed on the detour, but semi-tractor trailers or vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds had to take Highway 207, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Forest officials aren't sure what started the fire, which was burning on grass, shrubs and conifers.

Peterson described it as "extremely steep terrain," where for every two steps forward, firefighters slip one step back. "There are large boulders the size of Volkswagens, and trees coming down," she said. "This is a very difficult environment to work in."

The hot conditions can dry up moisture in the soil, sending rocks tumbling, fire officials say.

On Wednesday, strong winds were driving the fire. On Thursday, a drop in humidity and a rise in temperature fueled the fire, said Joe Anderson, another spokesman for the district.

By Thursday night, only 5 percent of the fire had been contained, but crews were working to draw a line around the entire fire to prevent it from spreading.

Bulldozers were being used to connect existing dirt roads and in some places workers were digging trenches by hand that were up to 2 feet wide, Anderson said.

The roads and trenches will be free of brush in an effort to deprive the fire of fuel.

Firefighters were also intentionally setting some small fires ahead of the uncontrolled blaze to deprive it of fuel in its path.

Firefighters from Chelan County districts 3 and 9 were assisting, and four helicopters from the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources were being used. Three "hot shot" crews of expert firefighters were being flown in from Oregon.

For most of the summer, unusually cooler weather has kept down the number of fires, but on Wednesday, in addition to the Tumwater Canyon blaze, a number of other, smaller fires broke out across the state.

The explanation for this week's events?

"Murphy's Law," Peterson said.

Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or jhodson@seattletimes.com

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