New storms bringing high-speed winds and lightning could ignite more wildfires this week even as crews continue efforts to contain a half-dozen large blazes in Washington.
The National Weather Service predicts strong thunderstorms could begin arriving later today and are expected to knock temperatures out of the high 90s in the Spokane area. Forecasts showed rain and thunder likely in Spokane from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. tonight.
The storms carry the potential for gusty winds, brief downpours, small hail and lightning – which could be bad news for the more than 4,300 firefighters working on blazes statewide.
The weather service issued a red-flag warning for most of of Washington, Oregon and the Idaho Panhandle from 12 p.m. today to 5 p.m. Wednesday. It warned of expected “scattered and abundant” lightning strikes.
It also issued a flash-flood warning for portions of Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan counties from 5 p.m. today to 11 p.m. Thursday.
The Washington state Department of Natural Resources expanded its current burn ban, effective through Sept. 30, to cover all outdoor burning with no exceptions on lands under DNR fire protection. The ban previously allowed recreational campfires, as well as liquid gas and propane stoves that do not use solid briquettes.
The continuing heat, low humidity and storm systems with high winds and lightning all bring “a huge potential for wildfires,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said in a statement Monday.
Six major wildfires are burning in four Washington counties and threaten more than 1,000 homes and structures, according to an update from the state Emergency Operations Center. The fire season typically runs into October.
This season, fires have consumed about 500 homes and structures and cost the state more than $120 million on suppression efforts.
On Monday, the Little Bridge Creek fire neared 500 homes in Okanogan County. Officials reported the fire 10 percent contained.
In Idaho, crews were battling the Big Cougar fire, which has scorched 65,200 acres near Lewiston. The blaze, at 50 percent containment, was threatening 200 structures as of early Monday.
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