Several fires grew overnight and forced evacuations as a record-hot day is forecast for Tuesday and Seattle-area residents awoke to ash falling from the sky.
Ash fell like snow in the Seattle area Tuesday morning as Washington’s wildfires sent plumes of smoke into the atmosphere.
It was so thick that dispatchers serving Eastside Fire and Rescue received concerned calls about smoke in the area and ash settling on cars.
“There is no local fire,” reported the department, which serves the Issaquah, North Bend and Carnation areas. “If you do see flames, please report it to 911 and crews will check it out.”
Haze covered the state from corner to corner, satellite images showed.
Smoke from the wildfires could be seen stretching across much of the United States in NASA satellite images.
In the Seattle area, Tuesday will likely see record-breaking heat, said Art Gaebel, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Highs are expected to rise into the 90s, he said, though, “It’s kind of tricky to forecast highs with the smoke in the area.”
The record for this day at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is 88 degrees, Gaebel said.
Insulated by clouds of smoke, overnight temperatures never dipped below 71 degrees at Sea-Tac, making for an uncomfortable night for the 85 percent of Seattleites without air conditioning.
A cool breeze is coming.
“This is the last of the really hot days,” Gaebel said, though tomorrow will be warm.
“We’ll have a system coming through late Thursday night, kicking off some showers and bringing some temperatures down to where they should be this weekend,” he said.
With fire danger high, Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday declared a state of emergency for all of Washington. Two hundred soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were mobilized Tuesday to help with fires in southern Oregon, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The state ecology department’s air-quality monitoring website was unresponsive Tuesday morning, apparently from too many people trying to access it. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows air quality in the Seattle area is “moderate.” East of the Cascades and much of the rest of the state had unhealthy air.
Kent School District cancelled football and all outdoor practices Tuesday because of air-quality concerns.
But here’s why the Puget Sound’s ashy air isn’t as bad for you as it looks, according to air-quality scientists.
The Norse Peak fire has burned more than 19,000 acres, and forced the closure of the Crystal Mountain Resort and surrounding areas. By Monday night, Pierce County officials told many in the area to leave immediately. The ski resort Tuesday morning reported that none of its structures were damaged overnight.
The fire also closed Highway 410 from milepost 66 to 89 and a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, fire information officer Heather Appelhof said.
Fire was torching and climbing into treetops, Appelhof said. Firefighters were expecting extreme fire conditions there Tuesday.
Thursday’s cold front will bring a chance of showers and cooler temperatures to the area. But it will arrive on the heels of gusty winds that firefighters worry could cause the fire to swell.
“We’ll see what happens,” Appelhof said.
The Eagle Creek Fire is now burning more than 10,000 acres on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon. Authorities are investigating whether a Vancouver, Wash., teen may have set it, according to The Associated Press.
The fire spread Monday as afternoon and evening winds pushed flames west across the steep flanks of the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, causing mandatory evacuations that included the communities of Dodson, Warrendale, Latoruell and Bridal Veil. The fire closed Interstate 84 from milepost 17 outside of Portland to Exit 62 by Hood River, as well as railroad traffic on that side. It also burned close to the Bonneville Dam.
On the Washington side, as of 7:30 Tuesday morning, Washington State Highway 14 remained open to passenger vehicle traffic but closed to truck traffic from milepost 19 through milepost 84.
Fire behavior was dramatic, with big swaths of timber set ablaze in a matter of minutes. Embers carried by the winds were creating spot fires as much as 3/4 of a mile away from the main blaze, according to a statement released by fire information officers.
Information officer Damon Simmons said Tuesday morning that the fire on the Washington side was some 10 to 20 acres in the area of Archer Mountain, which is west of Beacon Rock State Park.
“It was all fire, the whole hill,” said Mike Zamani, co-owner of the Skamania Store, who said he was told by a law-enforcement official to leave his home about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. He went to his store, along State Highway 14; it has been a hub for information about the fire, and he hopes to keep it open.
The fire strength reflects a mixture of a long, hot summer that dried out the fuel, and weather conditions late Monday that included low humidity and winds that blew at 35 to 45 mph, with gusts up to 55 mph, according to John Saltenberger, a fire-weather analyst with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
The mix of low humidity and strong winds continued Tuesday morning. Fire conditions are expected to ease Wednesday with cooler temperatures, according to Saltenberger. That will make it more difficult for the fire to spread.
For evacuees, a Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Stevenson, Wash.
The spectacle of the fire on the Oregon side drew many onlookers to viewpoints along the Washington side of the gorge. But by Tuesday morning, the fire had jumped the Columbia River.
The fire also threatened the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
The Jolly Mountain fire, near Cle Elum, Roslyn and Ronald, grew to nearly 23,106 acres Monday, with more than 1,000 people evacuated. More than 700 firefighters are working to contain that fire, information officer Morgan O’Brien said.
The fire crews are camping near the Cle Elum airport. “We’re basically a small town,” he said of the responders.
That fire came within 300 yards of homes near Cle Elum Lake on Monday, O’Brien said, but a local inversion has kept cooler air near the surface and dampened fire activity in recent days.
Inslee also visited the area on Tuesday afternoon, drawing a link between the fires and climate change. He said it was “personally painful” to see the forests burn.
He also invited President Donald Trump to visit.
“We ought to have the president — who denies climate change — out here to smell the smoke and see the ash,” Inslee said. “People are talking about hurricanes. We’re seeing climate change in our forests … it’s time to come to grips with the real problem.”
The Diamond Creek fire, near the Canadian border in the Okanogan/Wenatchee National Forest, grew to 95,000 acres Tuesday. The fire closed several roads and trails, and smoke continues to affect air quality in the upper Methow Valley.
The Jack Creek fire, burning in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area near Leavenworth, forced closures in the popular Enchantments hiking area. The Colchuck Lake, Stuart Lake and Eightmile/Caroline Lake permit areas were closed over the weekend due to fire activity.
Wildfire danger remains extreme in much of the state.
Seattle Times staff reporter Scott Greenstone contributed to this report. Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton reported from the border of Washington and Oregon.