Storms forecast for the Lake Chelan area could challenge firefighters’ efforts by bringing gusty winds and lightning.
With a projected forecast of lightning and heat, fire crews in the North Cascades are bracing for new targets as they continue to battle Lake Chelan’s 54-square-mile Wolverine fire.
The National Weather Service issued a “hazardous weather outlook” Tuesday, saying thunderstorms with the potential for gusty winds and lightning are likely in the area this week and through Monday.
“[Firefighters] are keeping their awareness heightened,” fire-information officer Sarah Saarloos said, monitoring for “erratic winds that would create new fires.”
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Sparked by lightning June 29, the massive Wolverine fire has expanded about 9?square miles since Sunday and is 20 percent contained, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Fire officials said they’re expecting minimal growth on the fire’s northern and southern ends as the flames continue moving west up Railroad Creek toward Holden Village. It’s about 30 miles from Chelan and 12 miles from the Twenty-Five-Mile Creek area.
Fueled by recent wind and dry conditions, the blaze as of Tuesday morning was within a mile of Holden, where crews have set up a successful fuel break and sprinkler system to block the fire’s encroachment. The area has been evacuated since July 31.
“The fuel breaks are holding,” Saarloos said. “The reason why they’re holding, and Holden Village is still there, is because of the hard work of the firefighters in the last week and mostly over the last 24 hours.”
Fire officials are watching about 150 homes, 92 other properties and 60 minor structures threatened by the blaze’s progression, most of which are along Lake Chelan’s western shore and in the Holden Village and Stehekin areas. So far, the fire has destroyed one home and three outbuildings near Domke Lake.
Saarloos said crews are making progress in steering the fire away from Holden and reducing its threat. Pending their success in removing fallen trees and deeming the area safe, the re-entry process could start within the next week, she said.
Meanwhile, firefighters are continuing mop-up efforts and working to improve fuel breaks in Stehekin.
Bill Queen, a coordination- center spokesman, said crews are monitoring for potential movement north where the fire could get to a point where it’s no longer bordering the lake and creep closer to the town.
He said people are moving through the Stehekin area with detours and, though their travels might be longer, the fire isn’t blocking recreation. Businesses and travel to and from the area remain open.
“It’s not like the hikers have gone away because of all of this disruption,” Queen said.
About 15 miles west of the Wolverine fire, the 170-acre Blankenship fire is creeping downslope toward Agnes Creek.
Fire crews have shuttled personnel and tools via helicopter to the area, and because of the area’s avalanche chutes and rugged terrain, they expect to keep the fire contained, Queen said.
With more than 800 hikers still headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail, unusual steps will be taken to try to reopen a section of the long-distance trail that has been closed by the Blankenship fire for almost three weeks.
Smokejumpers have worked to confine the 609-acre Goode fire that has moved into the bottom of Park Creek. The fire will be under new management by the National Park Service as of Wednesday.
In addition to the possibility of starting fires and spreading existing ones, the projected storms could cause flash floods in recently burned areas, with the heaviest storms expected Thursday and Friday.
“Weather is part of performance that we deal with,” Saarloos said. “It’s one and the same; weather predicts fire behavior.”