Gusting winds carried dust and smoke from other wildfires into the Yakima Valley on Monday, as firefighters held the line on the Evans Canyon Fire, reaching 60% containment.
Much of the smoke and dust was coming from fires from the northeast, including in Omak, Douglas, Chelan and Grant counties, local officials said.
Yakima Valley Emergency Management officials urged citizens to stay out of fire closure areas for their safety and the safety of fire crews. Heavy fire equipment moving on narrow roads, combined with reduced visibility from smoke and dust, created dangerous conditions for everyone, authorities said.
The Evans Canyon Fire was at 75,817 acres, or 118 square miles, on Monday evening. It started Aug. 31 in the Wenas Valley and has been burning in tall grass, brush and timber in Yakima and Kittitas counties. The cause remains under investigation.
A total of 769 people were battling the blaze Monday. All related closures remain in effect. State Route 821 through the Yakima Canyon remained closed Monday.
“These winds out here could take any ember. They’re blowing from the east but we’re not taking any chances at all,” said Dana Leavitt, one of the public information officers for the Evans Canyon Fire.
Gusting winds brought by a cold front passing through from the northeast to the southwest were expected to drop off late Monday, but hazy conditions will likely remain, said Ed Townsend, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore.
“I don’t think we’re going to see the visibility reduction we saw (Monday), but there could be some haze,” Townsend said. “There could be some smoke.”
As firefighters worked to hold containment lines on a windy day with low relative humidity and high fire danger, power outages were reported in and around Yakima, Toppenish and Sunnyside. As of early Monday evening, more than 6,000 people from Yakima, through the Lower Valley and into Walla Walla were without power.
And if high winds weren’t enough to keep people inside, air quality reached dangerous levels, prompting the Yakima Health District to recommend that everyone stay indoors, set air conditioners to recirculate and use a HEPA air filter due to the “hazardous and unhealthy air quality.”
Though temperatures Monday dropped thanks to the cold front and the hazy conditions it brought, they’ll rise again near the end of the week as relative humidity stays low, said Townsend of the weather service.
“(Sunday) we were in the 90s and … we got to 80 (Monday morning), but smoke and dust put a damper on that; with no sun, we were around 75,” Townsend added. “We’re expecting low 90s Thursday and Friday.
“We’re in a very dry pattern even though we had this cold front come through. Our relative humidity will still be in the low teens, 10 to 15% … in the Yakima Valley. That’s pretty low.”