Five fires in Chelan, Washington area, evacuations ordered

(UPDATED at 8:15 a.m. PT, August 19, 2015)

“This is not an emergency for us. This is what we do”.
(Deputy Incident Commander Rob Allen during a Wednesday morning briefing to firefighters, emphasizing that they should not feel pressure to take unnecessary chances performing what is to them routine work for which they have spent years accumulating skills and experience.)

The above quote can be heard in the brief video below.

All of the fires comprising the Chelan Complex of Fires grew on Tuesday, adding about 6,000 acres to what became a total of 69,445 acres burned. The Black Canyon and McFarland Fires burned together (see map below) while expanding on almost all the length of their perimeters. The First Creek and Antoine Fires both spread on their northwest sides.

map Chelan wildfires

The red lines indicate the perimeters of the Chelan area fires mapped at 11 p.m. PT August 18, 2015. The white lines are from about 24 hours before. (click to enlarge)

Evacuations are still in place for approximately 2,900 residents in the greater Chelan area.

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(UPDATED at 3:04 p.m. PT, August 18, 2015)

Map Chelan area fires

Map of Chelan area fires, 9 p.m. PT, August 17, 2015. The red line is the most current. The white line is from 1-2 days before.

Monday night the assessors office confirmed that 35 residences and 21 outbuildings have been destroyed in the fire near Chelan, Washington. The surveys are not complete and those numbers could be revised upward in the next few days.

The Sheriff’s office is increasing the patrols in evacuated areas, hoping to stop the looting has been reported in the temporarily vacant homes.

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Red Flag Warnings in seven states, August 14, 2015

wildfire Red Flag Warning, Aug 14, 2015

The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches for areas in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, California, and Montana.

The map was current as of 11 a.m. MDT on Friday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.

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Photos of the Cougar Creek Fire in Washington

Cougar Creek Fire

The Cougar Creek Fire burns near Mt. Adams in Washington, August 12, 2015. Photo by Jerry Messinger.

Jerry Messinger sent us these photos of the Cougar Creek Fire six miles northwest of Glenwood, Washington. The fire has burned 9,400 acres and is being managed by Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #5 (WIIMT5), Incident Commander Dave Leitch.

Cougar Creek Fire

The Cougar Creek Fire in Washington, August 12, 2015. Photo by Jerry Messinger. He said this was taken in the morning, and the fire activity increased in the afternoon.

More information about the Cougar Creek Fire.

Thanks Jerry!

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National wildfire preparedness level raised to highest level in two years

White Draw Fire

White Draw Fire, June 29, 2012 Photo by Bill Gabbert

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise will increase the National Fire Preparedness Level (PL) to its highest point, PL-5, at 5:30 a.m. MDT on Thursday, August 13th. The PL ranges from one, indicating minimal activity, to five, which signals very high activity.

The raised preparedness level reflects a high degree of wildfire activity, a major commitment of fire resources, and the probability that severe conditions will continue for at least a few days.

“A significant amount of initial and extended attack and large fire activity has occurred over the past several days as a result of lightning storms that have intensified local and geographic response,” said Aitor Bidaburu, Chair of NMAC. “Given the continuing hot and dry weather and the increase in fire activity in the western U.S., the decision to move to Preparedness Level 5 depicts the complexity that fire managers are encountering to assure that adequate firefighting resources are available for protection of life, property and our nation’s natural resources.” 

Wildfire activity has escalated in recent days after thunderstorms, many with little or no moisture, moved across parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, sparking hundreds of new fires. To date, 39,254 wildfires have burned nearly 6.4 million acres in the United States this year. The number of wildfires in 2015 represents about 80 percent of the ten-year average. However, the number of current acres burned represents about a 38 percent increase over the ten-year average at this point in the year.

The last time that the National Preparedness Level was raised to 5 was on August 20, 2013. The National Preparedness Level remained at 5 for 7 days until it was dropped to 4 on August 26, 2013. This is the fifth time that PL-5 has been reached in the last ten years.

During PL-5, further assistance from the military, beyond what is already in use, and international resources may be considered and requested, but no decisions have been made concerning those steps.

The weather forecast for the next few months, according to a news release today from NICC, predicts that most of the West will have above normal temperatures, below normal precipitation, and continuing drought in many areas into the fall.

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Soda Fire in Idaho nears containment

(UPDATED at 4:25 p.m. MT, August 18, 2015)

Fire managers are calling the Soda fire southwest of Boise, Idaho, 90 percent contained.

The demobilization process will begin today, August 18, and most firefighting resources will be reassigned to other fires in the west. The remaining crews and engines will continue to patrol, look for any smokes, and assist in the rehabilitation of containment lines.

As the Soda Fire nears 100% containment, a federal Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team is being convened to begin field work as early as Wednesday. The BAER Team of natural resource specialists will assess damage and design emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments for BLM lands. This assessment focuses on mitigating threats to life, property, and resources within the burned area over the next 3 years.

The Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team will be transitioning the Soda Fire to a local BLM Type 3 Team at 6am Wednesday, August 19, 2015.

This will be out last update on the Soda Fire unless there is a significant upward change in fire activity.

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(UPDATED at 9:18 a.m. MT, August 15, 2015)

Map Soda Fire

Map of the Soda Fire (red line) at 9 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The brown and red dots represent heat detected by a satellite as late as 10:05 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The fire was actively spreading near the location of the red dots at that time — the red dots were the most current. (click to enlarge)

Friday evening the Soda Fire only had one area that with a large amount of fire activity, and that was on the southeast side where the fire was spreading to the southeast in the direction of Murphy, Idaho. This fire is very hard for heat-sensing mapping systems to track because in many areas the vegetation is grass or light brush that ignites, burns up quickly, and may cool off before an infrared aircraft or heat-sensing satellite passes over.

The fire has burned about 265,000 acres.

From InciWeb, August 14, 2015:

The Owyhee County Dispatch issued notification for residents to prepare for evacuations in the Bailey Road, Reynolds Road near feedlot, China Ditch, and Wilson Creek due to extreme fire behavior caused by high winds and terrain that is aligned with the wind. Highway 78 open at this time.

There is limited air support at this time due to the very high winds (30-40 mph). A very large air tanker was used throughout the day in conjunction with crews and dozers to construct containment lines along the Willow and Reynolds Creek areas.

Friday afternoon the wind was gusting at 30 to 43 mph out of the southwest and later the northwest, while the relative humidity got as low as 8 percent at 7 p.m. The forecast on Saturday for the southeast portion of the fire is for 81 degrees, 18 percent RH, mostly sunny skies, and 10 mph winds from the northwest shifting to the north in the afternoon. With the lower wind speeds on Saturday the fire should not spread as quickly as it did Friday afternoon.

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(UPDATED at 12:36 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015)

soda fire

A tweet by KBOI at about 10:30 a.m. MT, August 14, 2015.

At 2 a.m. on August 14, the Owyhee County Sheriffs office recommended (but did not require) an evacuation near the Soda Fire for the Wilson Creek area south of Hwy 78 at milepost 16 through 18 due to increased fire activity. This area includes the Gibbons Hot Springs and the Hard Trigger Road. The Sheriff is asking people to please be prepared to evacuate. There are no mandatory evacuation orders in place on the Soda Fire.

The blaze is burning grass and sagebrush in Oregon and Idaho 14 miles southwest of Caldwell and 11 miles southwest of Nampa, Idaho (see the map below). The incident management team reports it has now blackened 265,000 acres.

Friday could be a big day on the fire, and dangerous for firefighters.  The area is under a Red Flag Warning from noon on Friday until midnight for southwesterly winds reaching 18 to 25 mph with gusts to 35 mph in the afternoon. Friday night the wind will shift to come out of the west and then the northwest. The relative humidity will dip to 10 to 15 percent Friday afternoon.

You can monitor the weather conditions updated once an hour at the Owyhee weather station, 5 miles west of the northern end of the fire. At 11:52 a.m. on Friday it recorded 85 degrees, 14 percent humidity, and southwest winds of 8 mph gusting to 17 mph.

soda fire

The red line represents the perimeter of the Soda Fire as mapped by an aircraft at 2 a.m. MT Aug 14, 2015. The white line was the perimeter the day before, and was an estimate Wildfire Today developed based on heat detected by a satellite.

Strong winds Thursday night caused increased fire activity in the Reynolds Creek and Wilson Creek drainages on the southeast flank of the fire. Over 300 additional firefighting resources were put in place to reinforce the line through the night.

The Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Todd Pechota will shadow Great Basin Incident Management Team 5 Friday in preparation for assuming command of the southern section of the fire Saturday morning.

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(UPDATED at 5:50 p.m. MT, August 13, 2015)

Soda Fire Aug 13, 2015

Satellite image of the Map showing the Soda Fire, August 13, 2015, showing smoke drifting toward the northwest. The red dots represent heat. NASA.

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