Some Columbia Complex Fire Evacuees Struggle to get back to Homes - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Some Columbia Complex Fire Evacuees Struggle to get back to Homes

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DAYTON, Wash.- The Columbia County Complex fire continued to grow Wednesday near Dayton, and evacuated residents are struggling to get back into their homes.

Strong winds are pushing the fire northeast into the Umatilla National Forest, and local authorities are trying to explain why many people are still being kept away from the places they call home.

Now estimated by some at more than 75,000 acres, the Columbia Complex fire has forced many from their homes, and some are angry with the way evacuations are being handled.

"We who have recreational cabins can do like a one hour permit to go in and get something out if we need to or see if there's any damage," said Connie Willier, the owner of a cabin in the area.

Officials are reportedly giving priority access to permanent residents, but with only two homes destroyed so far, some are just happy to know their homes are still standing.

"It's been a roller coaster of emotions.  You know, one minute you're really worried, afraid when you hear a bad report, the next minute you're excited when you hear about the job the firefighters are doing and that the cabin is still standing," said homeowner Melanie McCall.

And with millions of dollars of crops in the area, many farmers fear losing their livelihood, creating a new set of priorities, but firefighters say their first priority has been the same all along.

"We want to save homes, we want to protect homes.  We recognize that there's a lot of other values out here as far as the agricultural," said firefighter Mike Ferris.

"Given that we're on private land now instead of in the national forest, and it's important we try to preserve those, but sometimes there's just no way to do it."

Operations were handed over to a more skilled, Type 1 firefighting team today because of the fire's increasing complexity.

Another worry for firefighters are the fish hatcheries in the area as debris from the fire gets into streams.

Also, the Red Cross is transitioning back to local operations in their Walla Walls office Thursday after serving more than 2,500 meals to families affected by the fire.