The hot, dry Pacific Northwest continued to battle an outbreak of wildfires Thursday, with thousands of firefighters battling more than a dozen blazes in Washington and Oregon, where lightning strikes and arid tinder have conspired to burn through about 279,000 acres.
Emergencies have been declared in both states, where thousands of lightning strikes have been reported since the weekend. At least 17 major blazes were burning, about 1,000 homes were either threatened or under fire advisory, and half a dozen firefighters had been taken to hospitals for treatment of heat-related illnesses.
Although much of the attention has been drawn to fires in Washington state — billowing smoke was visible at times in Seattle on Thursday, and some rural highways were closed — the greatest damage has been reported across the state line.
“In Oregon, we have 14 uncontained fires accounting for 235,000 acres,” said Robin DeMario, spokeswoman for the Portland-based Northwest Coordination Center, a multiagency natural disaster response effort. “More than 6,500 lightning strikes occurred Sunday. … Oregon was where the majority of the lightning occurred.”
The Buzzard Complex fire, about 45 miles northeast of Burns, Ore., has incinerated 180,000 acres of grassland and sagebrush in a region that DeMario described as “pretty remote, inaccessible terrain.” The fire, which began Monday, was about 25% contained.
Oregon's Moccasin Hill fire, 25 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, had destroyed 17 homes and burned 18 outbuildings, DeMario said.
In Washington state, the Chiwaukum Creek fire, detected Tuesday, sent a smoke plume 25,000 feet into the air as it burned through heavy timber. The fire, about 10 miles north of Leavenworth and 120 miles east of Seattle, had raced across more than 1,200 acres by Wednesday evening and prompted the closure of a 15-mile stretch of Highway 2.
As many as 400 people had been told to leave their homes or cabins, and another 800 homes were threatened by the fire.
The most destructive wildfire in Washington remained the Mills Canyon fire near Entiat, where more than 35 square miles had been consumed since the blaze began July 8. The fire was listed at 40% contained with 419 structures threatened.
Washington's emergency declaration frees up state resources to combat the fires, and the state National Guard sent two helicopters to help fight the Carleton Complex fire in the north-central part of the state.
That blaze, caused by lightning, was reported Monday and has already burned through almost seven square miles. DeMario said Thursday afternoon that 120 homes had been evacuated.
“That complex has four fires in it,” DeMario said. “They're working on all of those fires. If the winds come up, there's a possibility for a couple of those fires to burn together. And there's a prediction of increasing winds this afternoon and into tomorrow.
“The weather has been hot and dry, with 90- to 100-degree temperatures in central Washington,” she said. “The hot and dry weather is contributing to the conditions.”
The region could get some relief over the weekend, with lower temperatures and the possibility of a few showers.
“If the predicted cooling temperatures occur, they will help for a short time period to keep the fire behavior less active than it has been,” DeMario said. “It's all weather dependent.”