Washington State, battling five wildfires, braces for higher temperatures

The forecast in Washington State is for hot and dry weather through Tuesday. Meanwhile, officials step up patrols and public education, as firefighters struggle to contain five wildfires.

Mike Bonnicksen/The Wenatchee World/AP
A helicopter drops water on a wildfire on a hillside alongside the Entiat River Road, just up canyon from the intersection with Mills Canyon in Entiat, Wash., Tuesday. The Mills Canyon Fire has since burned 18,000 acres.

Potentially record-high temperatures this weekend threaten to complicate firefighting efforts in Washington State, where five wildfires already are raging. 

Hot and dry weather forecast for this weekend could exacerbate the 28-mile Mills Canyon Fire and lead to additional wildfire outbreaks, officials warn. The coming heat wave could bring temperatures in the triple digits, National Weather Service’s Matt Fugazzi told The Seattle Times. The heat wave, coupled with dry conditions, could transform the land into “organic gasoline, just waiting for any spark or trigger,” he said.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources, the US Forest Service, and US Bureau of Land Management are stepping up patrols and public education efforts about the dangers of wildfire, the Times reported.

Temperatures will rise into the 80s on Friday before spiking into the 90s on Saturday, AccuWeather.com forecasts. The high temps could linger through Tuesday, the result of “an expansive ridge of high pressure,” meteorologist Andy Mussoline said.

A thunderstorm is a possibility on Saturday, which could dampen potential for new fires but also brings the risk of lightning strikes.

The Mills Canyon Fire broke out midday Tuesday near Entiat, a community of 1,200 about 150 miles east of Seattle along the eastern edge of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The Mills Canyon Fire Department has enlisted 450 firefighters from across the state to battle the blaze, which has already scorched 18,000 acres and remains completely uncontained, according to InciWeb, an interagency incident information management system website.

“Challenges for fire personnel include steep rocky terrain, flashy fuels, and warm weather conditions,” a statement on InciWeb explains.

So far, no injuries have been reported, but residents of about a dozen homes have been told to evacuate and hundreds more are under high alert. The fire prompted officials to close a 30-mile stretch of highway for 24 hours due to heavy smoke and rolling debris. That highway was reopened on Thursday.

Four additional wildfires are keeping firefighters busy across the state, including a nearby blaze – just 40 miles away – on the west side of Lake Chelan, which has consumed 400 acres and prompted evacuation of several homes and a local campground, Seattle news station King 5 reported.

Firefighters have had some success in battling smaller blazes near Spokane and Yakima.

Thursday marked the 13-year anniversary of the deadly Thirty Mile Fire in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, which claimed the lives of four firefighters.

While the Northwest braces for extreme heat, a summer polar vortex is expected to bring unseasonably low temperatures to the Midwest next week.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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