by Bruce A. Smith
Concern is mounting in Eatonville and surrounding communities as our skies become smoke-filled and many local residents are staying indoors to protect themselves from unhealthy air. The culprits seem to be two-fold – first an 100-acre fire on the south shore of Alder Lake, and secondly, contamination from regional forest fires east of the Cascades. The following press release has been issued by the National Forest Service (NFS) and the US Department of Agriculture giving details about a 100-acre forest fire on the southern shores of Alder Lake. Dozens of firefighters are battling this blaze and have attacked the flames with bulldozers and aerial water drops.
However, Sarah Rockey, spokesperson for the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District of the NFS, told the Mountain News on Sunday, August 23 that most of the smoke entering southern Pierce County was coming from the Cougar Creek Fire, which started hundreds of miles to the east on the eastern slopes of Mount Adams in the Yakima Reservation and has now spread into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
“The smoke you’re seeing is from multiple areas, but mostly from the Cougar Creek fire,” Rockey said, and added that recent wind shifts and weather patterns have pushed smoke from regional fires east of the Cascades into our area.
Updates will be forthcoming as the NFS issues more information on this developing situation.
Alder Lake Fire Summary
Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
The Alder Lake Fire was ignited by lightning and first reported on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest, in coordination with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, is currently managing the fire Southeast of Elbe, Washington. A Type 3 Incident Management Team is assigned to the fire.
The fire has been growing slowly over the past ten days and as of Saturday, August 22, 2015, is about 110 acres. It is in steep and rugged terrain, which makes it inaccessible to firefighters on the ground. Smoke will likely be visible in surrounding areas. Expect road and area closures to be issued. Forest Road 74 and 7409 may be formally closed to protect public and firefighter safety within the next 24 hours. Recreationists are encouraged to stay clear of fire personnel and equipment on Forest Road 74, 7409, and others.
Local communities may contact Sarah Rockey at Cowlitz Valley Ranger District with any questions (360-623-5525).
Update, Sunday, 2:30 pm
The National Weather Service says that health conditions will improve today as winds pick up and blow the smoke eastwards. Here is their statement.
“AIR QUALITY ACROSS WESTERN WASHINGTON WILL GRADUALLY IMPROVE
“THERE IS STILL CONSIDERABLE SMOKE IN THE ATMOSPHERE OVER WESTERN
WASHINGTON THIS MORNING…AS A RESULT OF EASTERLY WINDS AND
NUMEROUS WILDFIRES EAST OF THE CASCADES. HOWEVER THE EASTERLY
WINDS WILL SHIFT TO WESTERLY MIDDAY TODAY…AND AS A RESULT AIR
QUALITY WILL GRADUALLY IMPROVE THIS AFTERNOON.
“SKIES IN THE CASCADES WILL LIKELY REMAIN HAZY DUE TO SMOKE
THROUGHOUT THE DAY…BUT THE WESTERN WASHINGTON INTERIOR LOWLANDS SHOULD SEE NOTICEABLE IMPROVEMENT DURING THE AFTERNOON.
“IN THE MEANTIME…PEOPLE WHO ARE SENSITIVE TO AIR QUALITY OR HAVE
RESPIRATORY ILLNESS SHOULD FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF THEIR PHYSICIAN.”
Update, Sunday, August 23, 6 pm
The Washington State Department of Health has issued the following health advisory for those dealing with smoke from our forest fires:
“People are encouraged to remain indoors to avoid breathing smoky air, which can cause coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath in healthy people. Older adults and children are at higher risk of experiencing health effects from air pollution. Pregnant women and people with diabetes should also take precautions to limit their exposure to smoke.
“It’s recommended that residents turn on their air conditioner and keep the fresh-air intake closed and set the unit to recirculate. A high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) can also be used to reduce indoor air pollution if one is available.
“Contact your health care provider if you have specific health concerns and dial 911 for emergency assistance if symptoms are serious.”
Update Monday, August 24, noon
The Alder Lake fire has increased in size to 150 acres, and the NFS has announced a public meeting to be held in Mineral, tomorrow, Tuesday, August 25.
Today, the NFS released the following information:
“The (Alder Lake) fire has been growing slowly over the past ten days and as of Saturday, August 24, 2015, is about 150 acres. It is in steep and rugged terrain, which makes it inaccessible to firefighters on the ground. Smoke will likely be visible in surrounding areas. Expect road and area closures to be issued. Forest Road 74 and 7409 may be formally closed to protect public and firefighter safety within the next 24 hours. Recreationists are encouraged to stay clear of fire personnel and equipment on Forest Road 74, 7409, and others.
“There is a public meeting Tuesday, August 25 at 7pm in the Mineral School Gym in Mineral, WA. Representatives from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA DNR, Mineral Fire Dist. 9, and Lewis Co. Sheriff’s Dept. will be there to share information and answer questions from the community.”
Update, Tuesday, August 25, 2015 – noon
The National Forest Service announced today that the Alder Lake Fire has increased to 183 acres and is moving mostly to the southeast. The NFS also said that the personnel assigned to fight this fire has increased to nearly 100 crew, along with five bulldozers and other heavy equipment, and one wildland fire truck.
According to Wikipedia, a wildland fire truck is a smaller but more rugged vehicle than a regular urban area fire truck.
“Wildland engines are traditionally smaller than standard fire engines and are primarily used for vegetation fires or wildland fires. They also respond to emergencies in the back country where traditional engines cannot respond. Most wildland engines feature four-wheel drive capability and can thus climb hills and make it through rough terrain. One of the features that makes these engines ideal for vegetation fires is that they can pump water while driving, whereas most, but not all traditional engines must be put into park to flow water, it depends on the specifications to which the Fire Department wants the vehicle to be built. This pump-and-roll feature allows the engines to make “running attacks” on vegetation fires, a tactic that can help minimize the rate of spread by having a firefighter walk the edge of a fire with a hose line and the engine trailing close behind.”
Note: Even though the Alder Lake fire is moving to the southeast, it has also spread north and east to Washington State DNR lands and Tacoma Public Utilities properties. These agencies have committed resources to combating the blaze.
The fire began two weeks ago, and has resisted containment because much of the terrain is rugged and inaccessible, with forest slopes reaching 60 degrees.
As skies cleared over Eatonville on Monday, the huge cloud of smoke from the Alder Lake Fire could easily be seen heading to the Mineral Lake area. No evacuations have been ordered for the area, but a public meeting to discuss the situation will be held in Mineral this evening at 7 pm in the elementary school.