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Washington state wildfire victims return to burned homes

June 30, 2015

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) — Tom Bryant watched the central Washington state wildfire advance up a hillside toward his home, then turned to tell his wife it was time to evacuate.

Bryant and his wife and pets jumped into their vehicle and evacuated safely. But their home was one of two dozen destroyed in a fast-moving wildfire Sunday night in this city about 120 miles (190 kilomters) east of Seattle. A few businesses were also destroyed in the downtown core when flames spread there.

Firefighters on Monday kept a close eye on the wildfire, which has burned more than 4 square miles. It was considered sufficiently corralled that evacuees were allowed to go back to their homes. The Red Cross closed a shelter that housed 155 people Sunday night at a local high school.

The season’s worst wildfire struck 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.

Rainfall on Monday provided some relief, but hot, dry conditions were expected to persist throughout the week as crews deal with this and other wild land fires.

At his home, Bryant found the burned remains of his vintage Shelby Mustang GT 500 sports car, buried in ash. “It hurts, but it’s just stuff,” Bryant said.

Down the road, neighbor Vern Smith was in San Jose, California, on Sunday evening attending a 50th reunion concert of The Grateful Dead.

“I was getting horrifying text messages from my family,” Smith said Monday afternoon, as smoke continued to rise from the ashes of his home. The blaze left only brick work standing.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, but no injuries to residents were reported.

Elsewhere in central Washington, a new wildfire was reported burning late Monday south of the small town of Mansfield, about 40 miles northeast of Wenatchee. The state Emergency Management agency authorized state assistance to fight that fire, which reportedly has burned more than 3 square miles. The Washington State Patrol said three homes and a ranch were threatened.

Many of the destroyed Wenatchee houses were in an upscale hillside neighborhood. Burned homes sat next to residences that were not damaged. Weeping residents drove through the streets on Monday.

“These were all really nice homes,” said Joan Mullene, whose home survived. “It’s really devastating.”

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Associated Press videographer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report. Writers Bob Seavey and Courtney Bonnell in Phoenix and Chris Grygiel and Gene Johnson in Seattle also contributed.

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