Relief in Sight For Firefighters

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
12:11 a.m.

Apparently, there’s been a pretty massive complex of wildfires in Eastern Washington over the past week I’ve been at camp. I’m finishing another day off and need to be back in the kitchen at 7 a.m., but I have enough time to write a brief blog.

Here are all the fires burning as of Monday:

Carlton Complex Fire – (238,000 Acres Burned; 2 Percent Contained, largest in state history)
Chiwaukum Creek Fire – (11,000 Acres Burned; 10 Percent Contained)
Mills Canyon Fire – (23,000 Acres Burned; 75 Percent Contained)
Buzzard Complex Fire – (396,000 Acres Burned; 75 Percent Contained)
Shaniko Butte Fire – (42,000 Acres Burned; 50 Percent Contained)
Waterman Complex Fire – (12,000 Acres Burned; 60 Percent Contained)
Pine Creek Fire – (30,000 Acres Burned; 35 Percent Contained)

The Carlton Complex Fire near Winthrop, WA on July 18. Soldiers assigned to the 66th Theater Aviation Command, Washington Army National Guard, brought six helicopters to the area to assist firefighters on the ground. 
Washington Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess

The Carlton Complex Fire was initiated by a lightning strike in the Methow Valley in Okanogan County in Northeastern Washington on July 14, and at 379 square miles as of Sunday, is the largest wildfire in state history. At only two percent containment, it will likely grow some more. The fire indirectly killed one man as he had a heart attack trying to save his Carlton, Washington home from the flames, and 150 homes have been destroyed so far, with an additional 1100 threatened. 1,400 firefighters are fighting this particular blaze.

The Chiwaukum Creek Fire from Leavenworth: Photo Credit – Dominic Urbano.

The Chiwakum Creek Fire was also initiated by lightning, and was done so last Tuesday the 15th. It is currently encroaching upon the Leavenworth area, and 900 people have been evacuated. 1,580 structures are currently threatened by this blaze.

The Mills Canyon Fire from Entiat Road on the Evening of July 9.

The Mills Canyon Fire stared on July 8, but it is unknown what actually started it. Firefighters are almost done containing it, and hopefully it will be completely contained within the next couple days.

Smoke and a Pyrocumulus Cloud from a Northern Part of the Buzzard Complex Fire.

The Buzzard Complex Fire actually consists of seven different fires in east-central Oregon. It started due to a lightning strike, and this strike occurred on July 14th 45 miles NE of Burns. Even though it, at 396,000 acres, is the largest of the fires, it is also 75% contained, so hopefully it can be extinguished within the week.

The Shaniko Butte fire started after a lightning strike on July 13, approximately 12 miles to the north of Warm Springs Oregon. It spread rapidly at first but has since been contained from the north. However, it is expected to continue to grow to the southeast, with 108 structures still threatened by the blaze.

Bailey Butte Fire on July 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Susan Brock

John Day Unit fire

The Waterman Complex Fire has four separate fires and was started on July 11 by lightning. At 9,745 acres as of Monday, the Bailey Butte Fire is the largest. These fires are located 20 miles NE of Mitchell, Oregon.

Firefighters spraying water on the Pine Creek Fire – July 20, 2014

The Pine Creek Fire, another lightning-sparked wildfire, is currently burning in the Deschutes National Forest to the south of Fossil, Oregon and was expected to approach residences in Rowe Creek.

I was surprised to see that most of these fires were caused by lightning. Every single one of them was with the exception of the Mills Canyon fire, which has unknown origins, meaning it very well could have been initiated by lightning. I thought that the majority of these fires would be started by humans, but I was wrong.
Is relief in sight? I’m very thankful to say that rainfall does look to be just around the corner. Depending on where you are, the rainfall might be quite substantial as well. Let’s take a look at the models.
Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 24 Jul 2014 – 72hr Fcst
Over the next 72 hours, Western Washington, especially the Cascades, looks to get hammered, with most of this rain occurring in a single day. Unfortunately, Eastern Washington ends up relatively dry. The same is true for Eastern Oregon. Still, a little bit of rainfall goes a long way when fighting these fires, and even a tenth of an inch of rain is something to be grateful for. 
Also, take a look at this.
Valid 11:00 am PDT, Wed 23 Jul 2014 – 42hr Fcst
Our best model, the WRF-GFS, is predicting a whole helluva lotta rain over a 3-hour period over the Cascades on Wednesday morning. If this rain moves just a tiny bit to the east, the firefighters will get some serious help from mother nature on fighting these blazes. We will have to worry about thunderstorms, but with the amount of rain associated with this system, I think that the benefits will clearly outweigh the risks associated with lightning. We will also cool down significantly, which will assist fire control.
If you are a person, stay dry. If you are a fire… get ready to get wet.

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