There were 18 major wildfires across Oregon and Washington on Saturday, prompting evacuations and targeted power outages in Oregon as dry and windy conditions continued across the region.
There are about 406 square miles (1,051 square kilometers) of active uncontrolled fires across the two states, and about 5,000 people on the ground are fighting them, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
The fires are among more than 90 active fires nationwide, including those in Montana, California and Idaho, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
In Washington state, a fire in Goat Rocks south of Mount Rainier National Park was started by a lightning strike and led to the closure of US Highway 12 and the evacuation of residents in areas east of the city of Packwood. Evacuations have also been issued for several communities in Cowlitz County due to the Calama Fire in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest southwest of Mount St. Helens.
Another mountain pass on U.S. Highway 2 was closed on Saturday due to a fire in Bolt Creek that forced the evacuation of 300 to 400 homes, blew ash in Everett and blew smoke into the Seattle suburbs.
According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, this fire grew rapidly throughout the day, doubling in about two hours to about 3 square miles (nearly 8 square kilometers), and burning timber across the rugged terrain.
Peter Mongillo, a spokesman for the Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue Service, was nearby as part of the incident’s overall command center and said Bonneville Power Administration-owned high-voltage power lines that run through the Cascades are at risk due to the amount of smoke and particulate matter in the air, which can affect the lines.
“This increases the chance of arcing and fire or even outage of the power line,” he said in a telephone interview.
Mongillo said Bonneville had been advised to shut down the lines, but said that for now, Bonneville was maintaining the lines and would continue to monitor.
Bonneville spokesman Kevin Wingert said there are three lines in the area and that right now “the location of the fire and the density of smoke is such that we have no need to take these lines out of service or safety.”
Wingert said that if conditions changed and those lines did have to be decommissioned, then there would probably be no loss of customer service due to other transmission lines that are in operation. Both Puget Sound Energy, which serves customers in Seattle and elsewhere, and the Snohomish County utility district are Bonneville customers.
Mongillo said firefighters are on the ground up and down Highway 2, but they were unable to get air support in connection with the fire due to heavy smoke and biting wind.
“Now we have to wait and see,” he said. “We see about 24 hours of winds blowing from east to west.”
Washington’s red flag warning remains in effect until Sunday evening, meaning high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds will complicate fire conditions.
In Oregon, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office announced an evacuation order for vacationers from Milo McIver State Park late Friday night, which is about 24 miles (38.6 km) southeast of Portland. Early Saturday morning, residents of several communities west of the park were ordered to be ready to evacuate.
Hoping to reduce the risk of new fires, Portland General Electric initially cut power to about 30,000 customers in 12 service areas, but by Saturday, that number had increased to more than 37,000. By Saturday evening, that number had fallen back to about 30,000 people. Pacific Power stopped serving more than 7,000 customers in a small Pacific Coast community that was hit by a wildfire two years ago, as well as in areas southeast of Salem, the state capital. On Saturday, the number of Pacific Power customers without service increased to 12,000.
The largest fire in Oregon is the Double Creek Fire, which is burning in the northeastern part of the state near the border with Idaho. As of Saturday, the fire has burned more than 230 square miles (595 square kilometers). The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center reported that the area of the fire increased by 65 square miles (168 square kilometers) overnight.
In central Oregon, the Cedar Creek Fire east of Oak Ridge burned almost 81 square miles (210 square kilometers). On Friday, officials ordered residents to immediately evacuate large areas of Oak Ridge, Westfire and High Prairie due to increased fire activity.
AP reporter Gillian Flaccus provided information from Portland, Oregon and Andrew Selsky provided information from Salem, Oregon.
Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.
Was this article valuable?
Here are some more articles you might like.
Do you want to be in the know?
Get the latest insurance news
sent directly to your inbox.