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Wildfire smoke fills skies ahead of potentially ‘historic’ wind event

Fire danger is extreme; gusts could reach 55 miles per hour

By , Columbian Sports Editor
Published:
2 Photos
The sun sets through wildfire smoke in downtown Vancouver on Monday evening as strong east winds buffeted Clark County.
The sun sets through wildfire smoke in downtown Vancouver on Monday evening as strong east winds buffeted Clark County. (Micah Rice/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Wildfire smoke filled Southwest Washington skies Monday afternoon ahead of what forecasters warned could be a “historic” wind event amid extreme fire danger.

Monday, the National Weather Service issued a High Wind Warning from 5 p.m. Monday until 1 p.m. Tuesday. The warning calls for sustained east winds up to 30 miles per hour with widespread gusts between 40 and 55 miles per hour. High elevation areas and spots near the Columbia River Gorge could see gusts reach 65 miles per hour.

The High Wind Warning covers the greater Portland metro area, including all of Clark County.

“Tree limbs and even whole trees will be susceptible to being blown down,” a National Weather Service bulletin said. “Be prepared for power outages. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles along Interstate 205.”

Utility crews responded to multiple reports of downed power lines. As of 8:45 p.m., Clark Public Utilities reported 13,774 customers affected by power outages, with 7,090 customers having their power restored. The largest outages were in east Vancouver and Orchards.

Monday evening, the Southwest Clean Air Agency issued an air pollution advisory for all of Clark County. The agency’s monitoring station on Northeast 84th Ave. in Vancouver registered a reading of 165, which registers in the Unhealthy range. At that point, everyone is encouraged to stay indoors, especially sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised health. Clark County Public Health also issued an advisory warning people to limit outdoor activity and for vulnerable people to stay indoors.

Air monitoring data from the state Department of Ecology showed that smoke begin to intrude into the metro area at about 2 p.m.. As of 3 p.m. levels had reached well into the unhealthy category.

The wind comes amid a Red Flag Warning, signifying extreme fire danger, that is in effect in Clark County and much of western Oregon through Wednesday. With temperatures near 90 degrees and humidity as low as 10 percent, the potential for wildfires is great.

As thick smoke poured into Southwest Washington on Monday, several calls reported possible fires near Dole Valley in east Clark County. But fire crews could not find any blazes and determined the smoke had come from fires in central Washington and northeast Oregon.

There are currently 11 active wildfires in Washington and Oregon, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Monday, a new fire near Mount Hood Meadows ski area closed popular hiking trails as wildfire crews tried to contain the small blaze before it spread. This comes as Portland General Electric warned it might shut off power near Mount Hood on Monday due to extreme fire danger.

A Level 2 evacuation notice was issued for Breitenbush Hot Springs and Devil’s Creek due to the Lionshead Fire south of Mount Hood. A Level 2 notice urges residents to leave voluntarily or be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

The Evans Canyon Fire near Yakima is the largest active fire in the Northwest, with nearly 76,000 acres burned. By noon Monday, east winds in central Washington had topped 50 miles per hour.

“Hot, dry and strong easterly winds are expected starting Monday afternoon, peaking overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, then slowly easing through Tuesday evening,” a National Weather Service bulletin said. “These winds have the potential to reach historic speeds for early to mid September.”

The NWS is forecasting a high of 91 degrees in Vancouver on Monday. A high of 85 is forecast on Tuesday, 92 on Wednesday and 95 on Thursday.

The dry conditions come at a dangerous time as people flock to forest campsites for Labor Day weekend. Campfires are banned or extremely limited in areas under a Red Flag Warning, as is most off-road vehicle use.

As of  Monday afternoon, there were no fire restrictions in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, though fire danger was listed as High.

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