As wildfires intensify across the Pacific Northwest, forecasters warned that extremely dangerous weather conditions would continue again today and that smoke from those fires may cause air quality to deteriorate.
Most of the Inland Northwest from the Cascades through North Idaho is under a “red-flag warning” through 8 tonight for a combination of hot weather, low humidity and breezy to gusty winds.
The atmosphere is forecasted to be unstable today with lower air pressure at the ground, a condition that promotes updrafts and downdrafts that would fan flames.
The vertical motion brings wind and extra oxygen to the fires, said Spokane forecaster Matt Fugazzi of the National Weather Service. “They cause winds to come into the fire from all directions.”
As a result, conditions are ripe for “plume-dominated” fires in which columns of flames shoot into the sky during the heat of the day, he said.
This dangerous fire weather arrives just as Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center near Lake Chelan, was threatened by the 36,000-acre Wolverine fire on the west side of the lake.
Large sprinklers installed just this year were being used to keep the grounds of the historic former mining town wetted down. Crews patrolled through the night as flames crept within a mile on the ridge to the north. Evacuees waited in shelters or at their regular homes.
Hand-set fires were used to consume fuel and block the wildfire advance around the village.
Elsewhere, Monday night’s lightning storm sparked at least 35 new forest fires across North Idaho.
Most are less than an acre, but a 40-acre fire was burning near Marble Creek on the St. Joe Ranger District. Five of the fires have been contained, and additional firefighters have been requested by an interagency fire management team, said Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.
Stage 2 fire restrictions remain in effect, which includes bans on campfires and smoking in the woods.
Another new complex of fires southeast of Lewiston, encompassing 2,000 acres, also was raging on Wednesday after being ignited by lightning in Monday’s storms.
Fugazzi said that group of fires is expected to bring smoke into the Spokane region and Whitman County as well as the nearby Idaho counties of Lewis, Nez Perce and Latah. All of those areas are under the air quality alert, which extends through Friday morning.
Other counties under the air quality alert are Asotin, Chelan, Douglas and Garfield in Washington. The huge Soda Fire southwest of Boise expanded to 119,000 acres after being ignited on Monday, possibly by lightning.
Highs today in Spokane are expected to reach the upper 90s to around 100 degrees.
Southwest winds of 10 to 15 mph and gusts to 30 mph are expected in areas under the red-flag warning.
Another round of thunderstorms arrives on Friday as a cold front moves across the Cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Some of the storms may be severe, forecasters said, but temperatures will drop to the 80s on Friday and then 70s on Saturday before rebounding on Sunday and Monday to the 80s again.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources said resources to fight fires are being stretched as a result of the number of large fires across the Northwest.
At the same time, the number of human-caused fires is on the rise in Washington. DNR officials are asking people to be very careful about doing anything that could spark a fire.
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