NEWHALEM — Smoke hung thick in the air and ash fell to the ground Wednesday as firefighters continued to fight the ever-growing Goodell Fire.

The fire, which is among eight in the Upper Skagit Complex, is spreading in every direction, with the largest growth toward Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on the northeast edge of the fire and along the Skagit River near Newhalem, said Matt Call, division supervisor with the incident management team.

As of Wednesday morning, the Goodell Fire was at 5,573 acres and the eight fires in the complex at 6,655.

Great Basin Incident Management Team 4 is continuing to focus on protecting assets, including hydroelectric infrastructure and other Seattle City Light property, Call said.

The fire is not being fought conventionally. There is no fire line to slowly contain the fire, primarily because of the steepness of the terrain.

“I’ve been fighting wildfires for a long time, and this is one of the least forgiving places I’ve been,” Call said of the terrain.

While the fire is still zero percent contained, that doesn’t mean it is burning out of control, said Dennis Godfrey, spokesman for the incident management team.

Other fires of this size might be fought by dumping water or fire retardant from an airplane, but that would loosen the terrain here, which could send burning debris downhill to start more fires, Godfrey said.

Call also cited ecological reasons for the choice in firefighting strategy, saying that natural fires are important to the development of forests.

Call, who leads a crew of firefighters, has been responsible for setting up sprinklers around assets, such as the Trail of the Cedars, a popular trail south of Newhalem.

The wooden bridge over the Skagit River that gives access to the trail from Newhalem had three small lawn sprinklers on it to put out embers before they grow.

“Most people think of a wildfire as a large burning front,” Call said. “(But) most of what a wildfire is is thousands or millions of little embers that go ahead of the burning front.”

Crews patrolled the trail Wednesday afternoon extinguishing small fires, which were residual from a large blaze Sunday night when firefighters kept a large fire on the south side of the trail from reaching the trail or the bridge, Call said. Heavier fuel, such as trees, will burn for days or weeks after a large fire, he said.

The Seattle City Light hydroelectric facilities have been offline since last Wednesday, said Alan Ferrara, maintenance manager for Seattle City Light. He said teams are preparing repair strategies, but that they need access to damaged infrastructure before they can start recovery.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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