'Mind blowing' flames destroy homes in Washington state

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Massive Fire Threatens Washington State Homes

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) -- From just across the Wenatchee River, Dominick Bonny watched a whole neighborhood in his central Washington town burn as a wildfire destroyed two dozen homes and forced hundreds to flee.

"With the wind blowing away from us, it was like we were watching a natural disaster within arm's reach," he said.

The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought. Mountain snowpack is at extremely low levels, and about one-fifth of the state's rivers and streams are at record low levels.

Eastern Washington has been experiencing temperatures into the 100s, and last week Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation that allows state resources to quickly be brought in to respond to wildfires.

Washington's struggles with wildfires come as Alaska, its fellow Pacific Northwest state, is facing more and harsher wildfires this year.

See photos from the fires:

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'Mind blowing' flames destroy homes in Washington state
Julie Smith, right, embraces her neighbor Renee Monson as they stand near the remains of Smith's home, destroyed in a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Vern Smith walks through the rubble of his still smoldering home, destroyed in a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Vern Smith, right, embraces his son Spencer, 13, as daughter Mary, 17, stands with them and his wife, Julie, joins them in front of the remains of their fire-destroyed home Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Vern Smith, right, looks across at the rubble of his home, destroyed in a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Tom Bryant describes the fire that destroyed his home the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Maureen Bryant walks past the remains of her home, destroyed in a wildfire a night earlier, and in view of blackened hills beyond as she calls out for her missing cat Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Maureen Bryant looks over the remains of her home, destroyed in a wildfire a night earlier, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Vern Smith picks through the rubble of his home, destroyed in a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this Sunday, June 28, 2015 photo provided by The Wenatchee World, U.S. Forest Service fire fighters from Leavenworth cut brush near houses in northern Wenatchee, Wash. A wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into a central Washington neighborhood, destroying properties and forcing residents of several hundred homes to flee, authorities said Monday.(Don Seabrook/The Wenatchee World via AP) 
In this Sunday, June 28, 2015 photo provided by The Wenatchee World, a Douglas County fire fighter sprays down the back of a home in Wenatchee, Wash., trying to protect it from burning embers flying off of a neighboring house on fire. A wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into a central Washington neighborhood, destroying properties and forcing residents of several hundred homes to flee, authorities said Monday. (Don Seabrook/The Wenatchee World via AP)
In this Sunday, June 28, 2015 photo provided by The Wenatchee World, a Chelan County Sheriff's deputy races to check that all residents have left their home as flames approach houses at Quail Hollow Lane in Wenatchee, Wash. A wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into the central Washington neighborhood, destroying properties and forcing residents of several hundred homes to flee, authorities said Monday. (Don Seabrook/The Wenatchee World via AP)
In this Sunday, June 28, 2015 photo provided by The Wenatchee World, Forest Service fire fighters from Leavenworth watch as a house burns in northern Wenatchee, Wash. A wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into a central Washington neighborhood, destroying properties and forcing residents of several hundred homes to flee, authorities said Monday. (Don Seabrook/The Wenatchee World via AP)
Flames and smoke from one of several warehouses on fire, thought to have been sparked by embers from a wildfire that hit homes on a nearby hillside, rises from the collapsed structure Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The foundation and chimneys from a destroyed home continue to smolder following a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The foundation and chimneys from a destroyed home continue to smolder from a wildfire that raced through the area the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A firefighter pulls a hose next to one of several still-smoldering warehouses that burned, thought to have been sparked by embers from a wildfire that hit homes on a nearby hillside, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Smoke from several warehouses on fire, thought to have been sparked by embers from a wildfire that hit homes on a nearby hillside, fills the sky Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Firefighters walk along one of several still-smoldering warehouses that burned, thought to have been sparked by embers from a wildfire that hit homes on a nearby hillside, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The close proximity that a wildfire encroached upon homes near Monitor, Wash., can be seen on Monday, June 29, 2015. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review, via AP)
A resident wears a mask while walking in Wenatchee, Wash., near the Blue Bird fruit plant Monday, June 29, 2015. Emergency management officials say ammonia that started leaking from the fruit warehouse burning in a central Washington wildfire has dissipated and is no longer a threat. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review, via AP)
The foundation and chimneys from a destroyed home remain following a wildfire the night before, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. The wildfires hit parts of central and eastern Washington over the weekend as the state is struggling with a severe drought, destroying dozens of structures and forcing hundreds to flee. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
An ammonia leak from the Blue Bird packing plant is seen from East Wenatchee on Monday, Jun 29, 2015, in Wenatchee, Wash. Emergency management officials have issued a “shelter in place” order after ammonia started leaking from the fruit warehouse burning in the central Washington wildfire. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review, via AP)
Crews battle blaze near North #Wenatchee Avenue http://t.co/0QdnZZLSWA http://t.co/HkpikHPFrI
#SleepyHollowFire: count of burned houses & structures near Broadview up to 12, possibly more http://t.co/7MwcCnhcU5 http://t.co/iDmnTypPFS
And ladies and gentlemen is where I almost pooped my pants.. fireball came roaring over and melted the decals. Insane first brush fire of the year. #sleepyhollowfire#firefighter#savedthehouse#wenatchee#Godsgood
Rippers!! Wind was killer today. Wind, heat...killer fire #sleepyhollowfire but there's nothing sleepy about it. #wenatchee#Godsgood#wildland#sleepyhollowfire day1
In just a few hours the #SleepyHollowFire has gone from Monitor to #Wenatchee and homes are burning. http://t.co/PucTObg00i
Shits getting real #forestfire #byewenatchee
Sleepy Hollow Fire, it's getting real bad in Wenatchee sending prayers to friends, families, and the rest of the town🙏🔥#Pray#Wenatchee#FireSeason#Speechless
Aerial photo of the fire in north #Wenatchee near Sav-Mart. Photo / Jessica Richardson http://t.co/h9BYWbtcwR
#SleepyHollowFire unconfirmed: Walmart #Wenatchee is being evacuated. Photos by Kirby Hoyt south of Wenatchee http://t.co/N4bVz5kUCG
Please pray for Wenatchee I can't believe my home is burning down #prayforwenatchee #wenatcheestrong http://t.co/zR0vUylf6A
Updates to #SleepyHollowFire story have been posted here: http://t.co/scWuL1eTOq http://t.co/3v0gGK33XJ
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In Wenatchee, the wildfire fueled by high temperatures and strong winds roared into town Sunday afternoon. The blaze ignited in brush just outside Wenatchee, quickly burning out of control about 120 miles east of Seattle.

Rainfall on Monday provided relief, but hot, dry conditions and wind could challenge crews trying to get a handle on the flames that burned more than an estimated 4 square miles, officials said. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, but no injuries to residents were reported.

Fire crews were concentrating on preventing any more homes from being burned Monday, State Patrol Trooper Brian Moore said. Crews were working to put out hot spots in already burned areas, while keeping an eye on winds that were expected to reach 15 to 20 mph Monday evening and could fan flames again.

Albert Rookard, who lives across the Wenatchee River from the blaze, stayed up late watching the fire, and he was shocked at how fast it grew.

"From here, we could see embers just flying," Rookard said. "There was fire in so many places. We could see emergency vehicles flashing across town."

Evacuations were mainly in the north end of town and included a Wal-Mart store, the Chelan County Emergency Management office said. The store did not burn, but several commercial buildings were near the blaze, Washington State Patrol Trooper Darren Wright said.

Emergency management officials late Monday morning also briefly issued a shelter-in-place order after ammonia started leaking from a fruit warehouse. They later said it had dissipated and was no longer a threat.

The Blue Bird warehouse, which uses ammonia for cold-storage, was among a few commercial buildings to burn.

Bonny, who lives just outside Wenatchee, called the speed of the blaze "just mind-blowing."

"We're fine now," Bonny said. "Last night we watched the entire hill burn."

Phil Bentz, who lives on the same side of the river as the fire, said his home hadn't been evacuated. "We were waiting for someone to knock on the door, but they didn't come. So far, so good," Bentz said.

About noon Monday, fire trucks poured water on a burning warehouse in downtown Wenatchee, sending big black clouds into the air over the city. Farther north of town, scorched hillsides showed where the flames were stopped just short of irrigated apple orchards and residential subdivisions.

Officials know the fire started in brush on the edge of town, but they are still trying to determine what sparked it. Sweltering heat above 100 degrees, tinder-dry brush and strong winds helped fuel it.

Last month, Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency.

State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has banned all outdoor fires on state land protected by the Natural Resources department, and campfires have been banned at state parks and on state-controlled ocean beaches.

Railroad traffic in the area has been shut down, including freight lines and Amtrak's daily Chicago-to-Seattle route, BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said.

The railroad helped battle the blaze by spraying water from tank cars and transferring water to firefighting trucks, he said.

Hilda Emerson, 37, was among the people who fled the flames Sunday.

"I went and grabbed what I could - my computers, irreplaceable stuff, toys for my daughter - and I left," she said. "I never had to do this before."

She and her 4-year-old daughter, Nissa, spent the night on cots set up by the Red Cross in the gymnasium of Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee. She planned to check on her home later in the day.

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Associated Press writers Bob Seavey and Courtney Bonnell in Phoenix and Chris Grygiel and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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