Smoke from Eastern Washington wildfires drifting west of Cascades

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 7:20 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 12 at 6:04 PM

Satellite images of the state show the smoke from the eastern Washington wildfires is drifting west through the Columbia Gorge and other gaps in the Cascade mountains.

Dozens of 911 emergency centers in southwest Washington were flooded with calls Wednesday about smoke in their air. According to fire officials, weather patterns are pushing the smoke from the eastern Washington wildfires westward.

Cooler weather brought some progress on the dozens of wildfires known as the Wenatchee Complex, four days after a lightning storm sparked over 100 wildfires in the Wenatchee area. Firefighters managed to push the flames from many populated areas, but unusually dry, unstable weather predicted for the next 48 hours could create conditions for the fires to spread.

So far, not a single home home has been lost in the Wenatchee, Cashmere or Entiat area, but dozens of residents have evacuated or on evacuation standby.

A big concern Wednesday was the air quality. Health officials were calling air quality in the area "hazardous" and were telling residents to take precautions.

People in the area reported it was getting harder to breathe and some residents who have been allowed to return home are staying away because of it.

A high-pressure weather inversion and cooler temperatures trapped the smoke low and thick in the valleys. The Chelan-Douglas Health District labeled the air quality "hazardous" -- as bad as it gets.

"This is the first time I've seen it at this level for this large a population," said Mary Small with the health district.

Around 80,000 people are affected and the smoke is expected to settle for another few days. Schools have canceled outdoor activities because everyone is affected.

Health officials say residents should not bother with flimsy surgical masks to breathe with. Find a mask labeled N95. It's thick enough to filter the invisible particles floating around in the air.

Some homeowners west of Wenatchee were allowed to return home Wednesday with winds easing, but about 125 homes were still evacuated by a fire that had grown to more than 1,000 acres, Wenatchee police Sgt. John Kruse said.

An unknown number of homes also were still evacuated north of Entiat and near Cashmere due to two large wildfires burning in those areas.

  • A public briefing will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Riverside Center, 201 Riverside Drive in Cashmere.
  • The public can also get updates on the Wenatchee Complex Twitter account.
  • A Red Cross shelter remains open at the Seventh Day Adventist Church located at 5th Street and Western Avenue in Wenatchee. The Methow Valley Community Center is open for people near the Gold Creek Fire outside of Methow. The Grand Coulee Senior Center in Douglas County has opened its doors to help people in that area.
  • The Canyons Fire information phone number for the public is 509-667-6636. Information numbers for other fires burning in North Central Washington are 509-664-9374 and 509-664-9353.

Related: List of evacuation orders

Near Grand Coulee Dam, three homes and nine outbuildings were confirmed lost to two fires that have burned a combined 78,165 acres, or roughly 122 square miles of grass and brush. The homes likely burned when high winds pushed the fire Monday evening, but firefighters were unable to begin assessing the damage until Tuesday, fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said.

The fire was 20 percent contained early Wednesday.

"All the crews are working on improving the containment lines and continuing to protect structures in the area," Ripley said. "Most of the area is very light fuels -- brush and dry grass, and it can't get any drier -- so with favorable winds, we should be able to get on top of it pretty quickly.”

Residents of about 12 homes southwest of Creston remained on notice that they may have to flee if a 20,000-acre wildfire there grows. No homes have burned at that fire, but a few outbuildings have been damaged.

Meanwhile, fire managers worried about the potential for new fires west of the Cascades, where the National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for the mountains' west slope and the Puget Sound basin Wednesday night and early Thursday. A red-flag warning for critical fire danger also was issued for southwest Washington, including Vancouver.

Related links:

InciWeb - Wenatchee Complex Fire

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