Editor’s note: This is a live account of wildfire updates from Wednesday, Sept. 16, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated.
Wildfires continue to devastate the Pacific Northwest and blanket the Puget Sound region with thick smoke.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service are predicting an upcoming low-pressure system could clear away the haze by the weekend.
In Oregon, three dozen fires have burned more than 1 million acres, killed 10 people, left more than two dozen missing and forced more than 40,000 people to flee their homes.
Throughout Wednesday, 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 Tuesday are here.
Trump’s plan for managing forests won’t save us in a more flammable world, experts say
In California, smoke plumes spun into twisters made out of soot and flame, prompting the first-ever “fire tornado” warning. In Oregon, blazes advanced on towns so rapidly that even fire crews had to flee. Never in memory have so many fires burned so much land in so many places over such a short span of time. The smoke has enveloped the whole continent, dimming the sun in cities 2,000 miles away.
Fire experts say the nation needs new strategies to cope with the escalating threat.
But the country’s top fire science budget has been slashed — cuts that began in the last year of the Obama administration and have only accelerated under President Donald Trump, who has twice tried unsuccessfully to eliminate it altogether. States, which are struggling under the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, have run short of funds for the scientific work.
Trump has repeatedly said “forest management” — harvesting trees to reduce fuel for fires — is the key to preventing wildfires. But scientists agree no amount of “forest management” can stop disasters in an ever-more-flammable world.
Gender reveal parties gone wrong — and why the woman who started the trend wants it to stop
After a gender reveal party started a massive Southern California wildfire this year, the woman who began the trend in 2008 is once again asking people to stop the potentially destructive parties.
In 2017, off-duty Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey started a wildfire when he shot a decorative target with an explosive to announce that he was having a son.
The fire burned $8.2 million in property, though Dickey only had to pay $220,000 in fines after pleading guilty. Still, for a Border Patrol agent making somewhere between $55,000 and $100,000 a year (according to the agency’s website), that’s a lot of cash that Dickey’s son will never see.
Last year, the 56-year-old soon to be grandma was after her family “inadvertently” built a pipe bomb to announce the sex of a child and two people in Texas nearly lost their lives after the crop duster they were in dropped 350 gallons of pink water and then stalled and crashed in a field.
As for this year’s Southern California gender reveal fire, officially named the El Dorado Fire, the occupation of the couple has not yet been released, nor has the sex of the child. It’s safe to say the family will also be looking at a hefty fine, because the El Dorado Fire has torched 12,000 acres in San Bernardino County and was only 18% contained at the end of last week.
“Proverb: When idiots burn down forests with pink or blue bombs, I will wind up on CNN,” tweeted Jenna Karvunidis, who started the trend when a post of her cutting into a pink cake went viral.
‘Nothing left in the bucket’: Wildfire resources run thin
Justin Silvera came off the fire lines in Northern California after a grueling 36 straight days battling wildfires and evacuating residents ahead of the flames. Before that, he and his crew had worked for 20 days, followed by a three-day break.
Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.
“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.
His exhaustion reflects the situation up and down the West Coast fire lines: This year’s blazes have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire fighting forces to an extraordinary degree. And half of the fire season is yet to come.
Washington State Forester George Geissler says there are hundreds of unfulfilled requests for help throughout the West. Agencies are constantly seeking firefighters, aircraft, engines and support personnel.
“We know that there’s really nothing left in the bucket,” Geissler said. “Our sister agencies to the south in California and Oregon are really struggling.”
High winds and wildfires reduce Washington's apple crop
Washington’s apple crop will be up to 10% smaller than expected because wildfires and extreme windstorms have battered orchards in recent weeks, the Washington Apple Commission said Wednesday.
Washington supplies 65% of the nation’s fresh apple crop each year, and the commission in August estimated the 2020 crop would total 134 million 40-pound boxes.
But over Labor Day weekend, a strong windstorm moving through central Washington state knocked many apples off trees, and damaged some trellis systems, the commission said.
The wind also fueled wildfires that produced intense smoke, preventing employees from safely working in orchards, the commission said.
Finally, more accurate reporting of how many apples were on trees found a lighter crop volume than expected, the commission said.
As a result, the commission is predicting this year’s apple crop will be 5% to 10% lower than predicted.
The air outside is like smoking almost 9 cigarettes
How bad is our air?
It’s worse than in Beijing or Shanghai — and, on Friday, spending the day outside in the Puget Sound region was the equivalent of smoking almost nine cigarettes, according to calculations by researchers with Berkeley Earth.
Over the past few days, our Air Quality Index (AQI) has been hovering between 150 and 180, which is in the “unhealthy” range and lands us among the places with the worst air quality in the world.
Read more here about what that means for your health, and the current status of smoke and Washington wildfires.
Wildfire at White Pass at 100 acres; U.S. Highway 12 closed
The Cold Creek Fire at White Pass was listed at 100 acres on Wednesday morning with no containment.
U.S. Highway 12 remains closed over White Pass in both directions after the fire was discovered about 6 miles east of the summit. The fire is burning on both sides of Highway 12, primarily to the south, but there are spot fires to the north. The fire is located along the area of Highway 12 between Dog Lake and Clear Lake.
The fire is not threatening any structures, officials said. A Level 2 (be set) notice covers 130-150 home around Rimrock and Clear lakes, according to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. People should make preparations to leave. Most of the residences are cabins.
Summer camps in the area have been contacted and closed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The Forest Service asked the public to stay out of the area west of Clear Lake and said roads and trails will be closed for public safety. Forest Service employees were hiking trails and driving off-road vehicles along roads to alert anyone near the fire.
Eastbound traffic is stopped 13 miles west of the summit near milepost 138 at the junction of Highway 12 and State Route 123. Westbound traffic is stopped at milepost 183, Oak Creek, two miles west of the junction of State Route 410. There’s no estimate for reopening the highway.
Vehicles can access State Route 123 but it’s not recommended for large commercial trucks. A separate closure of State Route 410 eastbound and westbound from 323rd Avenue SE (milepost 29) to 583rd Avenue E (milepost 43) also could affect travel closer to the Enumclaw area.
For more information, follow Yakima Valley Emergency Management, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service-Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest pages on Facebook, and Indicweb.
Satellites show smoke from U.S. wildfires reaches Europe
Satellite images show that smoke from wildfires in the Western United States has reached as far as Europe, scientists said Wednesday.
Data collected by the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service found smoke from the fires had traveled almost 5,000 miles through the atmosphere to Britain and other parts of Northern Europe.
The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which operates some of the Copernicus satellite monitoring systems, said the fires in California, Oregon and Washington state have emitted an estimated 33.4 million tons of carbon.
“The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers, since 2003,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert at Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
Parrington said the smoke thickness from the fires, known as aerosol optical depth or AOD, was immense, according to satellite measurements.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
The fires are destroying crucial wildlife areas and gravely diminishing populations of endangered animals in Washington — from the sage grouse to the tiny, one-pound pygmy rabbit.
Oregon has opened a mobile morgue for fire victims, with 10 people confirmed dead and 50 unaccounted for.
Fighting these fires is like “dropping a bucket of water on an atomic bomb.” And the buckets are running empty as hundreds of requests for help pile up, with half of the fire season still to come.
After a gender reveal celebration touched off a massive blaze, the woman who started the trend wants it to stop. The extravagant displays have proven disastrous in more than one way.
How are the wildfires affecting you?
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