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The West burns, engulfing the region in smoke, threatening homes and iconic areas

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Raven Roost on Sep. 3, 2017 with the Norse Peak Fire in the background east of Mt. Rainier. (Photo by Jason Imhoff, courtesy of Inciweb)

While Americans in the Gulf states are suffering with too much rain and water from Harvey and the threat of the next storm, a Category 5 hurricane Irma, the West is suffering from relentless heat, wildfires and smoke.

The Northwest is experiencing extremely high wildfire conditions, and new fires have started while others have flared up considerably over the Labor Day weekend and threatening iconic destinations like the Columbia River Gorge’s waterfall district in Oregon, the Enchantments in the Alpine Lake Region near Leavenworth, WA, and Crystal Mountain Resort near Mt. Rainier. Communities around CleElum, Ronald and Rosylyn are also threatened, and a new fire start near Cashmere was reported Monday night.

The city of Spokane was getting so much smoke on Monday, Sep. 4, that the the air quality levels were registering “Hazardous” according to state air quality monitors. On this Tuesday morning residents in Seattle are reporting ash falling like snow. For the 85% or so residents without air conditioning in the Puget Sound region, the combination of heat and smoky air presents a challenge.

On Saturday September 2, 2017 Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide State of Emergency for Washington due to wildfires. This activates the National Guard, a State EOC, and mobilizes local and state firefighting resources.

From B lot at Crystal Mountain looking north. “The (Norse Peak) fire is currently threatening to cut us off, and we are withdrawing down the Boulevard,” Crystal Mountain Fire Chief Paul Sowers reported. No buildings involved yet, wind pushing fire down the valley. (Photo by Fire Chief Paul Sowers)

The Norse Peak Fire started by lightening to the east of Mt. Rainier National Park has grown to 20,000 acres and threatens Crystal Mountain Resort. All employees were evacuated to safety, and Highway 410 has been closed. The area by the resort remains at a Level 3 evacuation status. Firefighters from the South Puget Sound Wildland Team reported on their Facebook Page Monday night that they were withdrawing from the area due to the threat of their escape route being cut off. They wrote, “Happening now! Crystal Mountain is in danger of being over run.”

UPDATE – Sep. 5 at 3 p.m. 

Effective immediately, Mount Rainier National Park has closed the northeast portion of the park due to the unpredictable fire behavior of the Norse Peak Fire. Backcountry closures include all of the trails and cross country zones on the east side of the park including the area from Frozen Lake to Panhandle Gap, and all of the trails with trailheads along SR 410 and SR 123 north of Stevens Canyon Entrance.

The area closed on the northeast side of Mt. Rainier National Park. (Image courtesy of Mt. Rainier National Park)

Onlookers watching the Eagle Creek Fire burn in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. (Photo courtesy of Inciweb)

In Oregon, the situation in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is also dire. The Eagle Creek Fire, reportedly started by someone shooting off fireworks, on Saturday (Sep. 2) around 4 p.m., threatens homes and property in Cascade Locks, OR near the Bridge of the Gods. It was reported that hikers using the Pacific Crest Trail and other day hikers in the “waterfall district” of the National Scenic Area, totaling about 150, had to be evacuated from the area. All lanes of I-84 are closed from Troutdale to Hood River, and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office issued Level 3 (Go!) evacuations for Larch Mountain and the communities of Dodson and Warrendale. The Hood River County Sheriff issued Level 3 evacuations for everything south of I-84 in Cascade Locks.

Spanish Camp Cabin, wrapped in north Okanogan County near the Diamond Creek Fire.(Photo by Z.Winters, courtesy of Inciweb)

In North Central Washington, the Diamond Creek Fire in north Okanogan County continues to burn and is 85,000 acre in size. This fire started in late July and was reported to be “human caused.” The fire crossed the border with Canada on August 29 and has destroyed at least 2 structures, damaged 1 and caused 1 injury. Officials reported on Sep. 1 that fire protective wrap was installed on the historic cabin at Spanish Camp and that they wrapped the cabin at Pasayten Airstrip. Hikers were evacuated from Andrews Creek and Chewuch River Trails, as a precaution against possible extreme fire behavior. As of today, there are currently more than 60 roads or trails closed for public safety. This fire, like many of the others, is putting up an incredible amount of smoke.

The Jolly Mountain Fire closure map as of September 4, 2017. Image courtesy of the Type 1 Incident Management Team #2)

The Jolly Mountain Fire in Kittitas County remains 0% contained and threatening nearby communities of Cle Elum, Ronald and Rosyln. The fire started on August 11 due to lightning strike and is almost 22,000 acres in size with 677 personnel working on the fire.

As of Saturday, there were Level 3 evacuation notices north of Double O Ranch Road all the way north to the Boulder Creek area. The entire town of Ronald and Rosyln were at Level 2 evacuation notice and Suncadia Resort, the areas around it and the entire town of Cle Elum north of I-90 were at Level 1, with a total of 4,204 homes and 1,073 minor structures threatened, according to reports on the Northwest Fire Blog.

Fire responders working on the Jolly Mountain Fire listen to morning briefing at the Cle Elum Municipal Airport. There are 677 personnel working on the fire. Photo courtesy of Great Basin Incident Management Team #4.)

The Jack Creek Fire near Leavenworth started by lightning on August 11, 2017. It sat dormant for several weeks with minimal fire activity before burning into receptive fuels and growing. It is now about 1,200 acres in size. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has implemented a trail and area closure in the Enchantments Permit Area and Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The Colchuck Lake, Stuart Lake and Eightmile/Caroline Lake permit zones are CLOSED for public safety. 

The Jack Creek Fire on Sep. 3, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Inciweb)

The Uno Peak Fire north of Lake Chelan remain about 15 miles northwest of Manson. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Officials report that aggressive fire fighting is being employed to control the spread of the fire toward the town of Manson. Priority is also being placed on protecting campground facilities and homes and other structures in the direct vicinity of the fire. The size is approximately 2,500 acres with 166 personnel working on the fire. Officials reported on Monday that only 1% of the perimeter is contained.

The Uno Peak Fire 15 miles northwest of Manson as seen from Holden Mine on September 2, 2017. (Photo Credit: Matt Slosar, courtesy of Inciweb)

Local, State and Federal firefighters responded Monday afternoon to a new fire start in the Cashmere area. It was a brush fire on a ridge at the end of Brender Canyon, and a Level 1 advisory remained in place today for residents in the Brender Canyon, Briskey Canyon, Taber Rd. and Sky Meadows areas. The fire is 50 percent contained and burned about seven acres according to Chelan County Emergency Management. The cause is still under investigation and no structures are threatened at this time.

The Washington State Department of Ecology reports that air quality in Washington has now reached harmful to hazardous levels in many areas of the state. Smoke from fires in Montana, Idaho and Southeast British Columbia fires are funneling into Eastern Washington, and smoke from large fires like the Jolly Mountain Fire, Norse Peak Fire and Diamond Creek Fire are affecting Central and Western Washington. Check current air quality conditions at http://bitly.com/WAsmoke17.

(By Christine Eagar)

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