Ash blowing in from regional wildfires fell in Thurston, Pierce, Kitsap and King counties Monday and Tuesday, and the smoky air was deemed unhealthy in some areas, including Shelton.
The poor air quality prompted the North Thurston, Tumwater and Olympia schools to cancel sports events. The National Weather Service urged children, the elderly and people with respiratory illness to stay inside until Wednesday or Thursday, when the air quality is expected to improve as marine air pushes inland and southerly winds drive smoke out of the area.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Natural Resources expanded its burn ban to cover the entire state. That means outdoor burning is prohibited on all forestlands that DNR protects, as well as in state parks. Anyone caught violating the burn ban can face fines.
“Wildfire and smoke is affecting every community around the state as we see the hot, dry summer take its toll on our forests,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a news release. “Without any relief from this weather in the foreseeable future, and with our firefighters spread across the Northwest, we can no longer allow outdoor burning anywhere in Washington.”
On Monday, DNR firefighters had responded to 21 new fire starts.
The smoky air plaguing western Washington Monday and Tuesday was pushed here by easterly winds from the Norse Peak Fire near Union Creek. The nearly 29-square-mile fire closed Crystal Mountain Resort, and was just 8 percent contained Tuesday afternoon.
There’s been smoke from other fires, too, including the Jolly Mountain Fire in Kittitas County, which has scorched nearly 21,000 acres.
A growing Oregon wildfire covered parts of Portland’s metropolitan area with ash Tuesday and prompted the shutdown of a lengthy stretch of highway through the state’s scenic Columbia River Gorge.
Nine states with 80 fires
It was one of dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, a federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, said 80 large fires were burning on 2,200 square miles in nine Western states.
The 16-square-mile fire east of Portland forced hundreds of home evacuations. Embers from the fire drifted in the air across the Columbia River, sparking blazes in neighboring Washington state.
The wildfire grew rapidly late Monday and overnight, giving authorities just minutes to warn residents on the Oregon side of the river to leave their homes.
A closure of one section of Interstate 84 because of thick smoke and falling ash was extended 30 miles east of Portland because flames reached the roadway, said Dave Thompson, a spokesman for Oregon’s Department of Transportation.
“If it jumps the road, you’d be driving through a wall of flame,” he said. “It’s just not safe.”
Authorities say a 15-year-old boy is the suspect in the blaze. The Oregon State Police said Tuesday that the teen from Vancouver, Washington, and others may have been using fireworks on a popular trail in the Columbia River Gorge area. No arrests or formal charges have been made.
A fast-moving wildfire in northern Utah swept down a canyon Tuesday morning, destroying structures, forcing evacuations and closing highways.
A least one home burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as high winds fed the flames in the canyon north of Salt Lake City. Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways as firefighters struggled to fight the blaze fueled by winds gust at up to 40 mph.
A fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park emptied its busiest tourist spot as wind gusts drove the flames toward the doorstep of an iconic lodge.
Lake McDonald Lodge, a 103-year-old Swiss chalet-style hotel, sits on a lake as the famed Going-to-the-Sun-Road begins its vertigo-inducing climb up the Continental Divide, making it an endearing park symbol for many visitors.
Outside California’s Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire made its way deeper into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees on Labor Day. Officials said the fire had gone through about half the grove but had not killed any trees. Giant sequoias are resilient and can withstand low-intensity fires.
Near Helena in northern California, a fire destroyed 72 homes and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people from their houses. The fire burned 14 square miles.
Closer to home
The U.S. Department of Defense has agreed to assign 200 active-duty soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McChord to four days of fire training so they can be sent to a complex of 14 wildfires in the Umpqua National Forest that have burned 47 square miles.
Smoke and flames continue to choke Crystal Mountain Resort, but the fire on Tuesday no longer appeared to be making a beeline for buildings.
“The fire has become less active but fire crews are still monitoring it very closely,” said resort spokeswoman Tiana Anderson.
Once the thick smoke cleared, the U.S. Forest Service said it would use helicopters to drop water on the fire.
A level 3 evacuation — the highest alert — remained in place Tuesday, which meant no staff, hotel guests or residents were allowed to stay in the area.
Firefighters left Crystal Mountain about 10:30 p.m. Monday for fear that the road would be cut off by quick-moving flames. They returned early and hunkered down to keep flames from reaching buildings and ski lifts. Sprinklers were placed in the Gold Hills community, which is under evacuation along with Pick Handle Basin.
More than 330 firefighters are working the fire, which started Aug. 11 after a lightning strike.
Crystal originally closed Monday due to poor air quality, but by nightfall, the fire was close enough to prompt an evacuation.
“It came roaring over the top there pretty fast and then down the far side of the ridge really fast,” John Kircher, who owns Crystal Mountain Resort, told KOMO. “I was surprised. Everybody was.”
Crystal Mountain Boulevard and state Route 410 are closed between mile posts 66 and 69.
The Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Chinook Pass north to Snoqualmie Pass.
The northeast portion of Mount Rainier National Park also was closed on Tuesday afternoon, including all the trails on the east side of the park. People at the White River Campground were being encouraged to leave.
Greenwater Community Center is acting as a temporary shelter for those who have been evacuated. A stream of thankful residents dropped off food, water and baked goods to volunteer firefighters Tuesday.
The air quality in Spokane was rated as hazardous Tuesday. The National Weather Service says it was likely to get worse there as wind shifts bring in smoke from fires in Canada, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Meanwhile, locally on Monday, Lacey Fire District 3 and the Washington Department of Natural Resources responded to a 2-acre brush fire in the 13600 block Peter Kalama Drive Southeast, near the Red Wind Casino. The fire was reported at about 5:15 p.m., according to Lacey Fire Battalion chief Steve Crimmins.
“We got it knocked down in time that it didn’t threaten any structures,” he said.
DNR crews stayed overnight for mop-up work, and to make sure that it wasn’t reignited from hot spots, he added.
The fire is believed to be human-caused, but crews weren’t able to determine its origin, Crimmins said.
The Olympian’s Lisa Pemberton and The News Tribune’s Stacia Glenn contributed to this report.
Associated Press writers Phuong Le in Seattle, Matt Volz in Helena, Montana, and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.