Fire danger very high in Western Washington


by KING 5 News

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 11:06 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 13 at 5:09 PM

Western Washington is under Red Flag Warning until Friday morning, meaning fire danger in the region is critical with the potential for explosive fire development. In addition, smoke from wildfires in Central and Eastern Washington is drifting west, creating air quality concerns on this side of the state.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters dug lines and burned dry grass and brush in the path of the large wildfires in Eastern Washington Thursday, aiming to better control the blazes before the weather changes and potential winds return.

Seven large complexes of fires have burned across 229 square miles of parched land east of the Cascades, where some areas have gone without any measurable rain for weeks.

Heavy smoke covered much of the region Thursday, eroding air quality but serving a positive sign of low winds and fires that weren't quite so active. Firefighters hoped to take advantage of the favorable conditions before the weather shifts again.

A high pressure system in the area through Thursday was expected to lift Friday, and the effect is much like removing a lid from a hot pot, said Connie Mehmel, a spokeswoman for a complex of fires burning in the Wenatchee area.

"As that starts to lift, we can get instability in the area -- more winds, more active fires -- like opening the flue," Mehmel said.

Firefighters in South King County saw first-hand Thursday morning how quickly fire can spread in dry brush. A car hit a utility pole in the 30800 block of Thomas Rd SE in Kent, sparking a fire along the side of the road that burned hot and fast.

Firefighters managed to put it out, but they say it ran up the hill fast, scorching tree stumps and dry grass. Firefighters were able to keep it from reaching a home under construction about 100 yards away.

A three-alarm fire broke out Thursday afternoon in Kitsap County near the Bremerton Airport. Crews could be seen battling large flames in woods along Highway 3.

A brush fire off Carney Lake Road in Kitsap County burned five acres Wednesday night before firefighters knocked it down.

"The conditions are at a higher level. We have not had rain for about 50 days," said Key Peninsula Fire Assistant Chief Guy Allen.

"I’ve been here 25 years now and it’s about the driest I can remember,” said Capt. James Martin of Snohomish County Fire District 44. "If it doesn't turn around soon it could be quite dangerous.”

The Red Flag Warning for Western Washington remains in effect until 5 a.m. Friday.

There are about 100 fires burning across the state, covering a total of about 178 square miles. That’s about 30 square miles larger than Seattle.

KING 5's Elisa Hahn, Natalie Swaby and Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press is also included.