Wildfires grow as wind, smoke continue to menace Washington state

©The Seattle Times

A seaplane makes its approach to land on Lake Union as smoke from forest fires still blanket the Seattle city skyline in the afternoon on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. - Steve Ringman/Seattle Times/TNS

SEATTLE — Continuous and strong winds expanded new and existing large fires and threatened communities around the region Wednesday, according to fire officials.

Meanwhile, the first fire fatality — a young child — was reported out of the Cold Springs Fire in Eastern Washington, according to state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

“My heart breaks for the family of the child who perished in the Cold Springs fire,” said Franz, who oversees the state Department of Natural Resources.

“I am devastated,” she added. “The DNR family is devastated. The pain that family is going through is unfathomable.”

The statement by Franz gave no further information about the child.

In Washington, the Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fires near Omak on both sides of the Columbia River grew substantially, and hot and dry conditions persisted, stoking the fires.

Smoky air persisted in Seattle, and record-high temperatures were predicted for Thursday by the National Weather Service, with temperatures in the 90s in the warmest inland areas south of Olympia.

Fire conditions will remain dangerous in much of Western Washington through Thursday, along with reduced air quality.

A new fire has started in the Mount Adams Ranger District, north of the Trapper Creek Wilderness, where the Big Hollow fire is burning through timber. The fire is up to 10,000 acres in size and growing, according to Gaia Miller, acting public affairs officer for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Fire conditions remain dangerous, with a combination of extreme heat, high winds and dry conditions, and with firefighting resources stretched thin.

Breezy east winds were expected to continue Wednesday, although with lower speeds than on Tuesday. But downslope wind will continue to warm and dry the west side of the state.

No rain is forecast until early next week.

While this fire season has seen a big blow-up in a short time, with more than 500,000 acres torched in just the past few days, it doesn’t eclipse the state’s historically worst fire season.

In 2015 more than 1 million acres were roasted in Washington by wildfire, a record for the state. Then, as now, Okanogan County took the brunt of the punishment.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is developing closures to southwestern portions of the forest near Big Hollow fire. The closures will include developed campgrounds as well as dispersed camping, and all roads and trails in the area.

The Big Hollow fire started Tuesday and its cause is unknown.

The Pearl Hill fire, east of Bridgeport in Okanogan County, has grown to 174,000 acres and was about 10% contained as of Wednesday morning. The southern portion is coming under control, but the northern portion remains very active in the area of Bridgeport, northeast of Mansfield and on steep areas along the Columbia River, according to Wayne Patterson, fire information officer with the Northwest Incident Management Team.

There are 47 fire engines, eight 20-person crews and 13 bulldozers deployed against the fire, along with three helicopters being used to dump water on the fire. So far, two structures have been lost, and no people have been injured.

The Cold Springs fire, south of Omak, has burned 163,000 acres and is uncontained, and its fire behavior remains extreme. Multiple structures have been lost, and 110 residences are threatened. Highway 155 is closed from Omak to Nespelem, and Highway 97 remains closed between Omak and Brewster. About 200 firefighters are working on this fire. No injuries have been reported.

The Customs Road fire west of Curlew, Okanogan County, is 600 acres and is uncontained.

The Apple Acres fire northeast of Chelan in Chelan County has grown to about 6,300 acres and is 36% contained as of Wednesday afternoon. It remains very active, with spot fires crossing fire lines, Patterson said. The fire is burning grass, brush and timber, and threatening structures.

The Manning Road fire north of Colfax in Whitman County is uncontained. It has burned 2,000 acres of grass, brush and timber.

The Beverly Burke Fire, southeast of Vantage in Kittitas County, has burned 920 acres and is 30% contained.

The Babb Fire northwest of Rosalia in Whitman County has grown to more than 8,000 acres of grass and brush. It is uncontained.

The Whitney Fire is burning northwest of Davenport and has grown to about 130,000 acres of grass and brush and is uncontained.

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©2020 The Seattle Times

Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS
Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS
Firefighters put down water to protect a home after several were destroyed in a brushfire, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Graham, Washington. - Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS
The aftermath of several homes and vehicles destroyed in a brushfire are seen, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Graham, Washington. - Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS
Smoke rises where several homes and vehicles were destroyed in a brushfire, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Graham, Washington. - Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS
A pickup truck and chair is seen after several homes and vehicles were destroyed in a brushfire, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Graham, Washington. - Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS