NEAH BAY, Wash. — People living near Neah Bay were evacuated after three fires reportedly broke out from slash burns that restarted early Thursday morning, according to the Makah Tribe chairman.
Evacuations lifted Friday after winds died down, allowing the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) helicopters to drop water on the fires that threatened homes.
Chairman TJ Greene told KING 5 one of the fires is near Hobuck Lake and that the two others are on Cape Flattery. Greene said the fire broke out at around 6 a.m. possibly due to high winds. The fire was estimated at six acres as of Thursday.
Greene said the major area of concern was Hobuck Beach and the lake, where approximately 20 to 25 people live.
People near the Makah Passage were recommended to leave as well because of the risk of the fire isolating them. The resort was evacuated Thursday morning, according to Greene.
Another fire burning on Cape Flattery Road threatened 30 homes. Those residents weren't under evacuation orders but were told Thursday to be ready.
Greene said crews hoped to have the fires 80% contained by the end of Friday.
DNR crews are working on the fires and local contractors have donated equipment, according to Greene.
DNR firefighters established a fire line that made the community safer, Greene said.
The United States Coast Guard is also assisting with aerial assessments of the fires.
An evacuation shelter has been set up at the community gym and schools have been canceled. So far, around 30 people have been evacuated.
David Peterson, a University of Washington professor of forest ecology, said the recent dry weather pattern has made the perfect conditions for fires to start. Winds also picked up Thursday, fueling the flames. Neah Bay saw a peak gust of 52 miles per hour Thursday, according to KING 5 Meteorologist Adam Claibon.
"We have relatively strong east winds so that wind is blowing across the land and helps to dry out those fuels whereas if we had a kind of normal westerly wind coming off the ocean, it would be much wetter in general," Peterson said. "So, we just have exactly the right conditions right now to propagate and carry those fires."
Fires in western Washington this late in the year are extremely uncommon, according to DNR. State data shows these are the first fires on record to start in western Washington in November.
"It’s scary, we haven’t had nothing like that in many years,” said Eric Soenecke, one of the evacuees who woke up to a bedroom full of smoke.
He said he's lived on the coast for 36 years and didn't remember a November wildfire.
Greene said his members aren't used to wildfires any time of the year.
”We get over 100 inches of rain a year in our village. This is not something we are used to dealing with. It’s a shock for a lot of the community. There’s some fear out there," said Greene.
Several have sparked in eastern Washington in late fall, including the Camp Fire, which started on Nov. 9, 2020 and the Milepost 20 Fire, which started on Oct. 29, 2019.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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