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Wash. wildfire destroys 23 homes, prompts evacuations — VIDEO

WENATCHEE, Wash. — A wildfire burning unchecked in central Washington state has destroyed at least 23 homes and three commercial buildings near the eastern foothills of the Cascades, state police and emergency management officials said on Monday.

The so-called Sleepy Hollow fire has scorched an estimated 3,000 acres of rolling grasslands and brush in and around the town of Wenatchee, about 120 miles (200 km) east of Seattle since it erupted on Sunday afternoon, said state patrol spokesman Darren Wright.

He said several hundred homes remained under evacuation orders on Monday, as firefighters scrambled to take advantage of heavy showers that fell overnight, slowing the advance of the flames.

“We had a couple of pretty good rain storms that knocked it down a bit for us,” Wright said, adding that the blaze could flare up again with triple-digit temperatures and low humidity forecast to linger in the area for the next few days.

Hot, dry winds fanned the flames through drought-parched vegetation as the fire zone “blew up” late on Sunday, growing from just 200 acres at about 6 p.m. to 15 times that size overnight, said Janet Pearce, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Wright said at least 23 homes in a neighborhood just west of Wenatchee had burned to the ground, and that hot embers blown into the north end of the town itself set fire to a recycling center and two adjoining buildings of a fruit-packing storage facility. Both were destroyed, he said.

A thick, black plume from the three burning buildings drifted over Wenatchee, and a haze of lighter smoke hung over the town as a whole.

Many residents took refuge in shelters as the blaze raged on the outskirts of Wenatchee and the nearby town of Cashmere.

“Leave your home immediately, the fire is close and you are in danger,” the Chelan County Emergency Management office said in a notice to area residents. “We may not be able to get to your house to warn you, so please leave your residences.”

Pictures posted online by local media and on Twitter showed numerous structures engulfed in flames.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but the fire followed a large number of lightning strikes in the region, Pearce said.

With the approaching Fourth of July holiday, state officials were asking residents to avoid using personal fireworks.

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