Evacuations lifted at White Salmon wildfire in Columbia Gorge

Evacuations lifted at White Salmon wildfire in Columbia Gorge
Smoke from a wildfire near White Salmon, Wash., is visible from the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore.
WHITE SALMON, Wash. (AP) - Residents were allowed to return home Friday as firefighters gained ground on a wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge, but state land managers offered new warnings about the extreme fire danger east of the Cascades.

A weather system that is expected to begin sweeping through eastern Washington on Sunday will bring cooler temperatures, but also the potential for high winds. Gusts of up to 40 mph are predicted in the region.

"This weekend we will see dry fuels and high winds that give us two of the three elements that can start a catastrophic wildfire. The third element is the tiniest spark," Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said in a statement. "We are asking everyone to take extra care this weekend to avoid any risk of providing that spark."

In the meantime, firefighters made progress on a fire that has burned over 1,600 acres, or more than 2 square miles, north of White Salmon. The blaze was 40 percent contained Friday evening.

Residents of 49 homes were allowed to return, though they and other area residents are still on notice to be ready to leave if the fire grows, fire spokesman Chuck Turley said. Approximately 450 homes are in the area of the fire, which is burning in timber, grass and dry brush.

More than 600 firefighters were working to strengthen and build lines around the blaze, fire spokeswoman Mary Bean said. No structures have burned, and no injuries have been reported since the fire broke out Wednesday along Highway 141.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.