Evacuees return home after Central Washington wildfire explodes overnight

VANTAGE, Wash. – The fast-moving wildfire in Central Washington that temporarily closed Interstate 90 Tuesday morning was still burning out of control Tuesday afternoon. Fire officials say at least 1,600 acres have been scorched and the fire is 50 percent contained

The Rye Grass Coulee Fire started late Monday night; officials say there was lightning in the area but the official cause is still under investigation.

The fire shut down about 20 miles of I-90 Tuesday morning; backroads were also closed to traffic because the fire jumped the freeway.

But I-90 had reopened in both directions by noon Tuesday and more than 100 people who were evacuated were being allowed back home.

Firefighters from across Washington state pounced on the quick-moving wildfire that threatened the small town of Vantage.

“It’s literally a wind tunnel and it did blow up,” said Chief John Sinclair from Kittitas Volunteer Fire & Rescue.

“I could smell it, too,” said evacuee Jeff Gibbens. “It was really close.”

Gibbens and his friend Lila Choate were evacuated from their homes at Vantage Riverstone Resort – so were more than 100 other people.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph is what helped spread the fire fast.

“This spring we knew it was bad because of all the underbrush,” said Choate. “I guess it was time for it to burn off.”

By the time Choate and her dog Boise were allowed to return home, they found the resort virtually untouched by flames.

“We can’t believe it,” she said. “It looked like it rolled over the town.”

More than 100 firefighters were putting out hotspots by Tuesday afternoon and building containment lines.

Until the winds give them a break, many living in the area were told to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice if the fire sparks up again.

“We could still use structures at this point,” said Sinclair. “We’ve still got a structure protection group here protecting the homes.”

FEMA announced it's pumping money into recovery efforts already for the blaze. Fire officials say WSDOT has to rebuild damaged guardrails along I-90 and as many as 100 power poles were lost in the fire.