Washington, Oregon fires burn out of control, destroying homes

WA-OR fires, 2014-07-17 at 10.41.21 PM

Many wildfires in Oregon and Washington state are burning out of control this week, as both states have been issued almost daily fire weather warnings. Here’s a wrap up of some of the major fires burning in both states:

Chiwaukum Creek Fire: Ignited by lightning on Tuesday, this rapidly spreading wildfire had consumed 6,630 acres by Friday morning, and forced nearly 900 residents near Leavenworth, Washington to evacuate this week. The fire forced the shutdown of several miles of U.S. Highway 2.

The fire is part of the Mills Canyon Complex, which includes the Mills Canyon Fire, burning near Entiat and now at 22,571 acres, and the Kelly Mountain Fire, also near Entiat, which has burned between 60 and 80 acres.


Meanwhile, the Carlton Complex  in the Wenatchee National Forest in Washington has forced all residents of the small town of Pateros to evacuate. One of the complex’s four fires has already destroyed many homes and made a run that, by Friday morning, put the fire’s size at 260 square miles, The Associated Press reported. That’s about 167,000 acres. Reports vary as to how many homes the fire has destroyed, but the latest estimate seems to be at least 100. 

All of the Carlton Complex fires were ignited by lightning on July 14: Stokes Fire, Gold Hikes Fire, French Creek Fire and the Cougar Flat fire. The Stokes Fire and the Gold Hikes fire have merged into one fire, according to Inciweb.   


There are currently 14 major fires burning in Oregon. The Moccasin Hill Fire has destroyed an unknown number of homes–at last count, officials said that 33 had been destroyed. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared a state of emergency. 


Washington: Mills Canyon Fire near Entiat

(UPDATED at 8:10 a.m. PDT, July 14, 2014)

Mills Canyon Fire
Burnout on Highway 97A, July 11, Mills Canyon Fire, InciWeb photo

The spread of the Mills Canyon Fire at Entiat, Washington has slowed considerably. The Incident Management Team reports that it has now burned 22,571 acres and is 25 percent contained. For Monday, the team expects:

…The east and north flanks are expected to have little or no fire spread and will continue in patrol status. There will be some creeping fire along the west and southwest flanks with some isolated torching. Overall, only minor perimeter growth is expected. Evening thunderstorms and associated winds will test existing contained fire edges and effects of storms will be closely monitored.


(UPDATED at 9:50 a.m. PDT, July 13, 2014)

Map Mills Canyon Fire
Map of the Mills Canyon Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT, July 12, 2014. The yellow line was the perimeter about 24 hours earlier.

The Mills Canyon Fire at Entiat, Washington continued to spread on the west side Saturday, but more slowly than in previous days. The Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #2, which distributes few updates, said Saturday morning the fire had burned 21,823 acres. In their InciWeb report the team called it 22 and 25 percent contained in two different places . On Friday crews completed a burnout operation around homes on the east side of the fire that required the closure of Highway 97A. The eastern end of Swakane Canyon was secured with handline, but the fire spotted across Rattlesnake Road further to the west. Hotshot crews constructed containment lines in that area assisted by 60,000 gallons of retardant from a DC-10 and other air tankers. The Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 3, lead by Incident Commander Ed Lewis, will assume command of the fire at 6 a.m. Sunday.


(UPDATED at 6:55 a.m. PDT, July 12, 2014)

Map Mills Canyon Fire
Map Mills Canyon Fire 11 p.m. PDT, July 11, 2014.

The map of the Mills Canyon Fire above shows that the fire has grown to 21,000 acres. Over the last 24 hours it has been most active on the northwest and west sides, continuing to spread along the south side of Entiat River Road. **** (UPDATED at 9 p.m. PDT, July 11, 2014)

Map of Mills Canyon Fire, July 11, 2014
Map of Mills Canyon Fire, issued July 11, 2014, current as of 2 p.m., July 10, 2014. Each square is about 1 mile by 1 mile.

The Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #2 is not making many current maps available of the Mills Canyon Fire at Entiat, Washington, even to their own personnel. We were able to scrounge up the map above that was issued July 11, but it contains fire perimeter data from 2 p.m. July 10. The Team is still saying the fire has burned 18,065 acres and they are calling it 19 percent contained. Highway 97A has reopened.


(UPDATED at noon, July 11, 2014) Continue reading “Washington: Mills Canyon Fire near Entiat”

Rare winter fires in the Oregon Coast Range

Wildfire Heat detected in Washington and Oregon by a satellite
Heat detected in Washington and Oregon by a satellite at 1:08 p.m. PT, January 24, 2014

Rare winter fires are burning in Oregon’s Coast Range in areas that would normally be cold and wet much of the year, but especially in January. They are not huge, but some fires in Washington and Oregon are large enough to be detected by a satellite as you can see in the image above.

Below is an excerpt from KGW:

ARCH CAPE, Ore. — Rare winter wildfires in the Oregon Coast Range, visible from as far as 20 miles away, continued to burn early Friday morning east of Arch Cape.

The first was reported about 3 p.m. Thursday and second one about midnight south of the original fire, according to Seaside police.

Because it has been so dry and the wind has blown so hard early this winter season, forestry officials believe smoldering slash piles from the fall roared back to life and became new, bigger fires.

The fires, called Falcon and Shingle, were burning about 120 total acres Friday afternoon. A flight restriction was put in the place around the fires.

Gusts that reached an estimated 70 mph had flames jumping logging roads. At least 120 people were involved in the firefighting efforts by early Friday morning, including crews from Cannon Beach, Seaside, Gearhart, Nehalem departments and the U.S. Forest Service.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to JW and Steve

Burlington Northern railroad settles million dollar lawsuit for burning homes

Burlington Northern Santa Fe
File photo of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train

Railroads in the state of Washington get away with starting fires along their tracks because according to Joe Shramek, the Resource Protection Manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, they can’t take action against a railroad for starting a fire unless they can prove that: :

…the railroad acted deliberately, intentionally, and recklessly.

As we wrote in 2009 about the sorry state of affairs in Washington, that is a ridiculously high standard. In most states and on federal land, a deliberately-set fire is one thing, arson, and a fire that is unintentional but results from negligence is treated as a separate violation of the law.  If the State of Washington can’t prosecute someone for negligently allowing a fire to start and/or burn public or private land, they need to amend their law.

King 5 in Seattle has been reporting on this for years, and identified over 200 fires in a 10-year period that were started by railroads in Washington. While the criminal system is sitting on their hands as railroads start fires in the state, three families used the civil system to sue the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad for starting a fire in 2007 that burned their homes. King 5 said the railroad is expected to pay a million dollar settlement when the details are finalized later this week in the lawsuit that was filed nearly five years ago.

Below is an excerpt from King 5:

A BNSF contractor was performing track maintenance, called grinding, in Skamania County in August of 2007. The grinding machine spews sparks and embers and it reportedly triggered several spot fires on the hot and windy August day.

In spite of this, the crew kept grinding and triggered a major fire near Broughton Mill in Skamania County. Video shows the flames racing up the Columbia River Gorge and destroying homes in the White Salmon area.

In 2009, the KING 5 Investigators identified the Broughton Mill fire as one of more than 200 wildfires sparked by railroad operations in Washington State in the previous 10 years. Critics said that some of these fires, like Broughton Mill, were preventable. Local cities and jurisdictions complained that they could not prevent hazardous railroading operations because the railroads are regulated by federal law.

The attorney for the three victims in the lawsuit declined to talk about the specifics of the settlement. But he did say his clients were glad to be at the end of a “…long, hard fight.”

“I’m hopeful that the railroads will abide by common sense and not do grinding or other dangerous railroad operations when the fire season is high,” said Spokane attorney Richard Eymann.

More information on Wildfire Today: Railroad-caused fires in Michigan and Washington – two different approaches

More Wildfire sports teams

Wildfire team

In August we wrote about three football teams named “Wildfire”. Today we ran across someone talking about wildfire on Twitter and it turned out to be referring to what appears to be a girls’ hockey team in Canada (see the photo above).

Then we found another women’s hockey team in Wenatchee, Washington:

Wenatchee Wildfire

And still another one, Holy Family/Waconia in Minnesota:

Holy Family/Waconia Wildfire