Winds blew wildfire smoke from Eastern Washington to the Puget Sound area Monday night, worsening the air quality overnight and causing an orange, hazy sunrise Tuesday morning.
Gov. Jay Inslee said at a Tuesday news conference that over 300,000 acres burned Monday, as many as had burned over the last 12 fire seasons.
“This is an unprecedented and heartbreaking event,” Inslee said. “We know that we’ve been well prepared for fires. We’ve fought them before. We know how to do it. But these conditions were unprecedented.”
Inslee said the hot and windy conditions in the state, combined with low humidity, led to “explosive growth” of the fires.
Gusts reached up to 50 miles in Eastern Washington according to the National Weather Service office in Seattle. High winds continued throughout the state, even reaching 44 miles per hour in Enumclaw, which carried smoke swiftly over the Cascade Mountains.
Fires in Pierce and King counties started Monday and Tuesday as well. A brushfire in Graham burned overnight, destroying multiple homes and causing people to evacuate, according to Graham Fire and Rescue. Brushfires between Sumner and Bonney Lake blazed Tuesday morning and caused road closures along state Route 167. A fire near Enumclaw and Highway 410 started Tuesday as well.
The town of Malden in Eastern Washington was almost completely destroyed by the fire.
The Department of Natural Resources closed recreation areas east of the Cascades through at least Friday. King County announced a stage two burn ban on Tuesday, because of weather conditions on each side of the mountains.
Under stage two, “any outdoor fire such as a backyard fire pit or campfire using chopped firewood or charcoal is prohibited.”
Generally, at an unhealthy rating, older adults, children, teens and those with heart or lung disease, should avoid strenuous outdoor activities and limit time outside. Those who don’t fall under that should still limit time outside and switch some strenuous activities, like walking instead of running.
One of the fires, the Cold Spring Canyon/Pearl Hill fire, was first reported Sunday night near Omak. It has devastated the area, burning 174,572 acres according to the Wenatchee World.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office tweeted multiple updates Monday that the fire had jumped several state highways and the Columbia River. Towns like Bridgeport and Mansfield were without power and under level three evacuation. The fire slowed down, but was 0% contained as of Tuesday morning, the World reported.
Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz tweeted Tuesday that nine large fires were raging as of the morning.
As of Tuesday morning, the Evans Canyon fire had burned 75,817 acres since Aug. 31, and was contained later in the day, according to the Incident Information System.
The strong winds throughout Western Washington also knocked out power for over 80,000 people who were still without it as of Tuesday morning, according to Puget Sound Energy.
Inslee said Tuesday the fires have devastated parts of the state. People have lost their homes and are in need of help.
“I have directed the Emergency Management Division and the Department of Social Health Services to determine what emergency proclamations I will need to make to expedite any possible cash and food assistance to those in need,” he said.
Islee also urged people to take steps to prevent fires from sparking, noting most of the fires were human caused.
“If you can avoid being outside for anything that would even cause a spark, I hope people can avoid those conditions,” Inslee said. “This is a new reality we’re living in with the changing climate and all of us I hope can pitch in.”
King County Public Health also shut down its downtown COVID-19 testing center for Tuesday due to air quality concerns but opened back up by 2 p.m. The county said it will be open Wednesday.