Editor’s note: This is a live account of wildfire updates from Sunday, Sept. 13, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated.
Dozens of wildfires continue to rage in the forests, grasslands and foothills of the Pacific Northwest and down the West Coast, blackening more than 1.5 million acres in Washington and Oregon while forcing evacuations, knocking out power and fouling the air with smoke and soot.
Washington state blazes slowed on Friday and Saturday as weather conditions improved.
The air quality is expected to improve after a “super-massive” smoke plume billowed into the region over the weekend. The state Department of Ecology forecasts unhealthful conditions for Sunday — here’s how to reduce your exposure.
Throughout Sunday, on this page, we’ll post updates on the wildfires and their effects on the Seattle area, Washington state and the West Coast. Updates from Saturday are here.
Air quality conditions in the Puget Sound area may continue to be unhealthy through much of the day Monday, according to the latest guidance from the Puget Sound Clear Air Agency. The agency says that winds and light rain could improve conditions by Monday night and Tuesday.
Due to continued poor air quality, the City of Seattle announced that it would keep parks, beaches, boat ramps and playfields closed through the end of Monday.
Drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Bellingham to be closed tomorrow morning because of poor air quality
Whatcom County is canceling COVID-19 testing Monday morning at its drive-through site at Civic Field in Bellingham because of unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke.
Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern recommended the testing site be temporarily closed to protect staff and visitors from exposure to unhealthy air.
COVID-19 testing will be conducted at the site tomorrow afternoon pending improved air quality, but could be canceled if the smoke lingers, according to Whatcom Unified Command.
Updated forecast predicts Monday showers, clearing smoke
An updated forecast from the National Weather Service (NWS) predicts showers Monday and Tuesday, clearing out some of the thick haze that has descended on the Seattle region.
Visibility is still mostly limited to less than two miles because of the wildfire smoke. The NWS anticipates that the region could potentially see more wildfire smoke on Wednesday, but it's unclear how badly it will impact Western Washington with more rain.
Sumner Grade fire in Bonney Lake now mostly contained
The Sumner Grade fire in Bonney Lake is now at 65% containment, East Pierce Fire & Rescue reported in an afternoon update.
All evacuation areas in the city were downgraded to a Level 1 alert, meaning residents were cleared to re-enter their homes starting at 6 p.m.
Feeling anxious, down under a blanket of smoke? That's normal, mental health experts say
Unsurprisingly, being confined indoors under an ominous blanket of creamsicle-colored smoke while a pandemic rages is taking a toll on many people’s mental health.
Jane Simoni, professor and director of clinical training in the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology, said things can be particularly difficult on mental health right now because of the “syndemic” nature of concurrent, ongoing disasters.
“It comes on top of so many other traumas,” Simoni said. “It’s COVID, it’s the biggest civil unrest we’ve seen in a while, the economic downturn, the uncertainty about the election, climate change. Any one of these would be a catastrophe and now we’re having all of them in the wildfires.”
Effects from the wildfires can result in anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress and sometimes substance use increases, Simoni said. Some studies have showed that use of anti-anxiety medications go up after severe wildfires, she added, and that domestic violence can increase.
It doesn’t help that many of the coping mechanisms a therapist might recommend to a client are off-limits in the unhealthy air, said Seattle mental health therapist Ashley McGirt.
“Many of the main things I recommend to improve our mental health and well-being, deep breathing, going outside, getting some fresh air,” McGirt said. “Now that’s gone. It’s one more thing that we’re losing.”
Smoke is likely even more stressful on average for low-income families and people of color, McGirt said.
“Marginalized communities tend to be lower income communities; we also tend to live in multi-generational households so there’s a broad array of individuals in our homes, from the young to the very elderly, so that’s impacting us as we’re confined to this environment,” McGirt said. “The lower income may not have access to filters or things that can clear the home. They may already be in a toxic living environment.”
Simoni said that she would advise people who are feeling particularly anxious or depressed to identify and acknowledge how they’re feeling.
“Know that this is normal, this is appropriate to feel this way, and do what you do to cope in a healthy way,” Simoni said. “Talk to other people about it, try to do something in your house, take a break from the news once in a while.”
“Treat yourself a little bit if you need to do something that makes you feel good, and hopefully we know this is not going to be sustained,” Simoni continued. “It already looks like Monday will start to clear.”
8 structures, 494 acres burned in Sumner Grade fire
Eight structures, including two primary residences and six outbuildings, were destroyed in the Sumner Grade fire in Bonney Lake, East Pierce Fire & Rescue said in an update Sunday. Firefighters are now able to evaluate the scale of the loss, "now that the threat has subsided," the department said.
The fire burned a total of 494 acres, the agency said — less than earlier estimates of roughly 800 acres (the agency said that number was estimated "during the confusion of the initial attack"). No one was injured.
The Bonney Lake Police Department said that evacuation areas in the city would be downgraded at 6 p.m. to Level 1. That means residents should be alert and aware of the potential danger in their area and stay tuned for more information. Residents with special considerations like health or mobility issues, or those with animals, should make arrangements to evacuate if necessary.
Several local restaurants shut doors over poor air quality
Several local restaurants in the Seattle area are keeping their doors closed this Sunday because of unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke.
Oddfellows Café + Bar, on Capitol Hill, announced it would remain closed on Instagram, as did Pike Place Market's Market Grill, Little Neon Taco and Renee Erickson restaurants Bateau and The Walrus and the Carpenter.
Other restaurants told customers they would have limited indoor seating while closing outdoor sections. "Remember when the sky was this blue?" read a message on Piatti Italian Restaurant's Instagram account next to a photo of the restaurant's sign on a clear, blue day. "Due to air quality concerns again today, our patios will be closed."
Cleaner air is on its way - but it's going to take a while
These two images from state agencies show how smoke continues to sit over Washington and the West Coast. Cleaner marine air is slowly making its way toward the coast, but the Washington Department of Ecology says it will be Monday before Western Washington sees improvements.
West Coast's wildfire death toll hits 33
Nearly all of the dozens of people reported missing after a devastating blaze in southern Oregon have been accounted for, authorities said, as crews continued to battle wildfires that have killed at least 33 victims from California to Washington state.
The flames have destroyed neighborhoods, leaving a barren, gray landscape in their wake, driven tens of thousands of people from their homes and cast a shroud of smoke over the region.
The crisis has come amid the coronavirus outbreak, the economic downturn and nationwide racial unrest that has led to protests in Portland for more than 100 days.
“What’s next?” asked Danielle Oliver, who had to flee her home outside Portland. “You have the protests, coronavirus pandemic, now the wildfires. What else can go wrong?”
Puget Sound air quality expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups through mid-week
Wildfire smoke will continue to be unhealthy for sensitive groups in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties at times through the middle of the coming week, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
A storm later in the week is expected to rid the area of most smoke.
As of Sunday morning, air quality readings throughout Eastern and Central Washington, as well as Seattle, showed very unhealthy to hazardous levels of air pollution for everyone.
Officials predict that winds and light rain could improve the situation in Puget Sound by Monday morning.
As Fires Disrupt Schools, ‘the Pandemic Has Actually Helped’
As the worst wildfire season in decades scorches the West amid a still-raging pandemic, families and educators who were already starting the strangest and most challenging school year of their lifetimes have been traumatized all over again. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, with some mourning the loss of their entire communities.
But amid the twin disasters, the remote-learning preparations that schools made for the coronavirus are providing a strange modicum of stability for teachers and students, letting many stay connected and take comfort in an unexpected form of virtual community.
“The pandemic has actually helped,” said Patsy Oxford, the principal of Berry Creek Elementary in Northern California.
Schools in other towns most damaged by the fires appear to have survived the flames, but as in Berry Creek, their students have been scarred and scattered. The fires prompted some West Coast schools to delay or cancel classes; and educators across parts of California, Washington and Oregon have spent recent days tracking down students to check on their safety.
Some schools have continued teaching remotely or are preparing to do so this week, even as families find themselves huddling in hotels, shelters and relatives’ homes.
Read the full story here.
Gov. Jay Inslee says climate change a 'blowtorch over our states in the West'
On Sunday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” alongside Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley to discuss the wildfires' devastation, calling the situation “apocalyptic” and “maddening.” Inslee described talking with a Whitman County woman in Malden, a town he said was “absolutely decimated” by the fires.
“What struck me, as I was listening to her, the only moisture in Eastern Washington was the tears of people who have lost their homes and mingling with the ashes,” Inslee said. "Now we have a blowtorch over our states in the West, which is climate change, and we know that climate change is making fires start easier, spread faster and intensify."
Both Inslee and Merkley refuted recent comments from President Donald Trump blaming the wildfires on "forest management."
Asked about disinformation on social media complicating response efforts, Inslee encouraged people to vote against politicians who deny climate change.
“This is not a debate. The time for excuses, for denial, for downplaying this, those days are over,” he said. “The days of consequence are upon us.”
Weather systems Monday expected to push smoke out of Seattle; fire growth slows
A mix of smoke and fog shrouded the Puget Sound region as fires continued to burn throughout the West Sunday morning.
Firefighters continued battling roughly 30 fires in Washington and Oregon, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. One new fire was reported in Washington 14 miles south of Pullman in the Wawawei Canyon, covering 310 acres. The blaze was 25% contained as of Sunday morning.
But cooler temperatures, lighter winds and higher humidities continued to slow the growth of fires throughout the Northwest.
With the smoke mixing with fog and low clouds, the low visibility appeared set to remain for the first half of the day, although there’s a chance of gradual improvement in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service’s Seattle office.
Starting Monday, multiple incoming weather systems should bring stronger eastward winds blowing the smoke to higher levels of the atmosphere.
“As we get into Monday, through the day and beyond, it looks like the majority of the smoke will begin to move off to the east and mix out, giving us some improvement,” said Matthew Cullen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It may not be a rapid flip the switch and suddenly it’s all gone kind of thing, but the trend toward improvement looks to be on the way.”
The Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires – the two largest in Washington – were respectively 80% and 45% contained as of Sunday morning. The Pearl Hill fire near Bridgeport has burned nearly 224,000 acres, with the Cold Springs blaze approaching 189,000 acres.
Almost all missing people accounted for in deadly Oregon blaze
Authorities say almost all of the people listed as missing from a deadly wildfire in southern Oregon have been accounted for.
Late Saturday, the Jackson County Sheriff’s office said that four people had died in the Almeda Fire that burned in the Ashland area.
Authorities earlier this week said as many as 50 people could be missing from the blaze, but now say the number of people unaccounted for is down to one.
The sheriff’s office said in a statement that the number could fluctuate.
At least 10 people were killed in wildfires that burned the past week throughout Oregon. Officials have said more people are missing from other blazes and the number of fatalities is likely to rise.
How climate change fuels Pacific Northwest wildfire
Climate change has primed the region’s landscapes for wildfire, pushing summer temperatures higher, drying vegetation and stretching out the fire season.
In Western Washington, cool onshore flow from the Pacific Ocean typically keeps summer skies blue as a robin’s egg.
But on Monday, that wind pattern was thrust into reverse.
And scientists now are examining whether a changing climate could play a role in driving the wind events that history shows have wreaked destruction on the region’s west side.
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