Firefighters battled at least three wildfires Friday in Okanogan County that threatened hundreds of homes and briefly clogged the Methow Valley with hazardous smoke.
The Cedar Creek blaze, which is burning five miles southwest of Mazama, and the Cub Creek 2 fire, burning five miles north of Winthrop, prompted evacuations throughout the area.
The blazes are two of at least 15 large wildfires currently burning in the Pacific Northwest — eight in Washington and seven in Oregon — across 638,000 acres. In Oregon, firefighters are dousing flames east of Roseburg, south of Detroit Lake and northeast of Sprague River, among other spots. The Bootleg fire in southern Oregon is particularly concerning to officials, who say it’s become so large and is generating so much energy and heat that it’s changing the weather.
In Washington, the Cedar Creek fire, which was ignited by lightning on July 8, had grown to 20,806 acres (32 square miles) and was 11% contained by Friday afternoon, said Pam Sichting, information officer with Northwest Incident Management Team 8. It’s threatening 1,449 structures, including homes, garages and woodsheds, and continues to burn through the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on steep and rocky terrain.
It’s unclear how many people have been evacuated, since officials have been prioritizing counting residences and structures, Sichting said.
The Cedar Creek fire “is backing down in the majority of the area into some old dozer line we opened up from previous fires,” Sichting said, referring to a cleared area bulldozed around the perimeter of the blaze.
The southeast corner of the fire became more active Friday afternoon, so crews focused their efforts there, she said.
The Cub Creek 2 fire started July 16 and has grown to about 40,000 acres (62 square miles). It is 5% contained and is threatening 271 residences, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. The blaze has destroyed at least one home, the center said.
Joe Zwierzchowski, a spokesperson for the incident management team handling the Cub Creek 2 fire, said the blaze had started moving away from homes Friday afternoon.
Although thick smoke from the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek 2 fires settled into the North Central Washington valley overnight, the air has since started to clear out, Sichting said. By Friday afternoon, it was safe for crews to deploy aircraft to battle the flames from above.
“This clear air spooks people sometimes because they’ll see more smoke rising (out of the area) than they normally do, but it comes with the benefit of getting a more aggressive approach … and hitting some of the hotter spots with aircraft using water and retardant,” Zwierzchowski said.
He said the Cub Creek 2 fire had forced dozens of people to evacuate, but he didn’t have an exact number.
On both Thursday and Friday morning, the air quality index in Winthrop climbed over 400, according to Air Quality Index’s real-time map, meaning it was hazardous to everyone.
Meanwhile, near the Colville Indian Reservation, the Chuweah Creek fire has consumed 36,730 acres (57 square miles). The smaller Summit Trail fires, at less than 6,000 acres (9 square miles), however, were putting out most of the smoke and creating “unhealthy” air quality conditions between 150 and 200.
Anyone in need of shelter can contact the Red Cross at 509-670-5331. The organization has opened stand-by shelter at the Methow Valley Elementary School in Winthrop.