Jolly Mountain fire forces hundreds to evacuate

smoky cle elum.jpg

CLE ELUM, Wash. -- The Jolly Mountain Fire is now 3 weeks old and still growing.

There are now about 400 firefighters attacking it both from the ground and from the air. It’s now threatening to push down into the valley, dangerously close to people’s homes.

The fire moved too close to comfort for fire officials and the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office, who issued an evacuation order to more than 150 families.

“I think we all kind knew we'd have to get out of there one way or the other,” said John Kelly, just hours after getting the evacuation order.

John Kelly built his large house 16 years ago in the Teanaway Valley. Figuring he might have to evacuate, he started sifting through his 3,000 feet of house, to identify the things he would not want to lose.

Fighting back tears and staring at his vintage 1970s pickup truck full of boxes and suitcases, he said needed to get as many of his parents' pictures as he could, out of his house.

“That's their memories. I got my dad's pictures from the second world war. He was a bomber pilot. He took pictures of his based and of his plane,” said Kelly.

Now staying at a Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees in Cle Elum, Kelly said he didn’t sleep at all last night.

“It's live or die, you know, so whatever I got left there, God help, I hope it’s still going to be standing there,” he said.

His best link to that vast unknown right now is a live web cam, courtesy of Simplified Technologies LLC. It’s trained toward the fire lines for people to see.

This fire, up on Jolly Mountain started Aug. 11, with a strike of lightning, from a massive storm Kelly said he definitely remembers.

“It was pouring right around all around Lake Cle Elum up through Mount Stewart. Those clouds were just black as charcoal. You couldn't see any lightning, but you sure could hear that thunde,r and I think the one that set it off was the one I heard, about 5:00 in the afternoon; kaboom! It was just like long rolling thunder,” said Kelly.

Now three weeks later, Kelly said he’s suddenly meeting lots of new people and neighbors, sitting in the community center, feeling helpless against nature, but thankful he’s safe.

“I really don't know what I'm going to go back to,” he said.

Kelly said he’s already decided that if those wild flames take his house, he will move west, maybe to Camano Island. He said shoveling the snow in winter, keeps him active, but it’s sure a lot of work and he wouldn’t want to rebuild in the danger zone.

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