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Originally published Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 12:02 PM

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Residents flee Columbia River Gorge wildfire

Firefighters worked in hot weather and dry terrain Thursday to contain a wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than two-dozen homes in a popular recreation area in the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River Gorge.

Associated Press

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YAKIMA, Wash. —

Firefighters worked in hot weather and dry terrain Thursday to contain a wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than two-dozen homes in a popular recreation area in the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River Gorge.

The fire has burned across more than 2 square miles, or 1,500 acres, of trees and grass in south-central Washington state, about 60 miles northeast of Portland, Ore., in a rural area known among outdoors enthusiasts for its whitewater rafting, salmon fishing and wind surfing.

Residents of about 30 homes have been evacuated, said Stan Hinatsu of the U.S. Forest Service. A total of about 450 houses are threatened by the fire, and most of those residents have been told to be ready to flee if the fire heads their way.

No homes have been lost, and no injuries have been reported.

The fire started in multiple spots along Highway 141. The exact cause has not been determined, but it's not necessarily suspicious.

"Obviously it's human caused in some way," Hinatsu said. "It could have been the wheel from a flat tire throwing off sparks."

The fire had burned to within a mile of Rusty Hicks' home after it started Wednesday afternoon, but Hicks said he breathed a little easier Thursday morning when the winds shifted from the east.

Hicks, who opened a guide service for fishermen nine months ago, saw flames along the highway as he drove to the nearby Klickitat River to fish with a few buddies. He said he doesn't expect the fire to hurt his business and has clients lined up for the coming weekend.

"We're having a good day on the water today, out here catching a few salmon," he said. "They'll get `er wrestled down today. They've got good people on the fire."

High temperatures and breezy conditions were the biggest concern for firefighters.

Temperatures in central Washington have been several degrees above average in recent days. They were expected to remain above average through Sunday, when a cold front could bring cooler temperatures but more wind.

"That will be a system we'll be watching, because it will bring in windy conditions and not a lot of precipitation," said Jeff Cote, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "If there are still ongoing fires, it could make them a little harder to contain."

About 150 firefighters are on the scene with more arriving Thursday as state mobilization brings in additional resources, including helicopters or air tankers.

Also in Washington state, a 500-acre wildfire was threatening a handful of homes near Ellensburg in the central part of the state. The fire broke out around midnight Wednesday.

Residents of a couple of homes had been told to be ready to evacuate, said Koshare Eagle, a spokeswoman for the firefighting team.

Ellensburg sits in rural Kittitas County, where firefighters already battled another damaging wildfire this summer. Last month, the Taylor Bridge Fire burned across more than 36 square miles, destroying 61 homes and 35 outbuildings. That fire was declared completely contained at the end of August.

In California, firefighters braced for drier weather Thursday after remnants of a tropics storm helped them gain ground in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. The fire has burned across 6 1/2 miles, or 4,180 acres, but crews were able to double containment Wednesday to 44 percent, according to fire officials.

The temporary relief came courtesy of Tropical Storm John, which brought light rainfall, increased humidity and cooler temperatures. The blaze was expected to be fully surrounded Sept. 13.

Nearly 1,300 firefighters were on hand despite the treacherous terrain and slopes between 30 percent and 80 percent. At least five firefighters have sustained minor injuries.

Firefighters were still looking for a cause. A burned car was found in the area, but it was unknown if the vehicle caused the fire or was just destroyed by it.

As many as 12,000 people were asked to evacuate the area over the busy Labor Day weekend.

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