Thick Smoke Hovers Over Columbia Complex Fire - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Thick Smoke Hovers Over Columbia Complex Fire

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COLUMBIA COUNTY, Wash.- The Columbia Complex fire near Dayton is now 35% contained, but it's still growing, and smoke is becoming a safety issue.

The fire has been burning for more than two weeks, and with no wind and an inversion trapping air pollutants in the area, the smoke just keeps building up.

It has charred more than 92,000 acres outside Dayton, and a thick layer of smoke now blankets the area.

"We're in a bit of an inversion, and especially in the mornings, and it gets trapped in the valleys, and usually in the afternoon it'll clear out a bit," said Heather Cole, a spokesperson with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Firefighters are asking people to just be patient when dealing with the morning haze, and the Washington State Patrol is now warning drivers to be cautious when driving through the smoke that resembles a thick fog in some places.

"Dense smoke in some areas, similar to fog, so people need to slow down, make sure you have your headlights on, and you leave extra following distance, anticipating there being some hazards," said Trooper Jay Cabezuela.

"And there's also a fair amount of animals running around the roadway in that area."

The smoke is helping and hurting the fight against the blaze.

It helps to reduce fire activity, but it's also preventing firefighters from getting much work done.

"1,000 feet off the ground it's clear, it's just when you're seeing' what you're going' down after. And then it's also, you know, in places where there's something on the ground and you're trying to do a water drop, they're hard to see where you're putting the water down at," said Virgil Mink, a Fire Information Officer. 

Winds from the south are expected to push some smoke north toward Pomeroy in the next few days, but it's expected to remain smokey in valley's and canyons until the fire is out.

Firefighters say the fire is moving about a half mile a day, growing an average of nearly 4,000 acres a day for the last week.

The total cost now sits at more than $14 million.