Responders dealing with dry, breezy conditions in region
Hot and windy weather has contributed to the rapid spread of wildfires east and west of the Methow Valley. The largest fire in the area is the Eagle Bluff Fire near Oroville, which had burned more than 15,000 acres as of Tuesday (Aug. 1).
The 25-acre Sourdough Fire in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area is visible from the North Cascades Highway. Over the weekend, motorists pulled off the highway to observe the blaze and firefighting efforts.
Eagle Bluff Fire
The Eagle Bluff Fire near Oroville, initially reported on Saturday afternoon (July 29), exploded in hot, windy weather, causing hundreds of people in the United States and British Columbia to be evacuated.
The fire spotted across the Canadian border, near Osoyoos, on Sunday. About three-fourths of the fire is burning in the United States, just west and south of Oroville. As of Tuesday, there was 10% containment on the fire. Four structures have burned, according to fire officials.
Level 3 (leave immediately) evacuation orders were issued for people on both sides of the border. The evacuation level was reduced to 2 (be ready to leave) on Sunday evening after fire activity calmed, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management. Several roads in the Oroville-Loomis area were still closed on Tuesday.
A Northwest Incident Management (Type 2) has assumed command of the fire. Other firefighters have come from throughout the region. As of Tuesday morning, there were about 411 personnel working on the fire.
Okanogan County Fire District 6 helped protect structures, control flare-ups and extinguish burning power poles from Saturday night through Sunday morning. They also assisted with triage at a border facility and neighboring RV park, and with bulldozer operations, according to a post on the District 6 Facebook page.
“The Oroville community and support system at the Oroville Fire Department were some of the most caring folks I’ve ever worked with,” District 6 Captain Keith Comstock said on Facebook.
The Eagle Bluff Fire is burning in timber and shrub-steppe in steep and rugged terrain. Firefighters have completed substantial portions of bulldozer line around accessible parts of the fire perimeter, according to Northeast Washington Fire Information.
Smoke from the fire has periodically drifted into the Methow.
On Sunday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Eagle Bluff Fire. The FEMA administrator determined that the fire could become a major disaster, since it threatened homes in and around Oroville, an airport, recreational facilities, farms, and a high-pressure natural-gas pipeline in Canada.
It’s the fifth Fire Management Assistance Grant declared this year to help fight Washington wildfires. The grant can cover up to 75% of firefighting costs, but it doesn’t cover the loss of homes, businesses or infrastructure. Another $1.2 million will be available to Washington for the mitigation of future wildfires and related hazards such as post-fire floods and erosion.
The cause of the Eagle Bluff Fire is currently under investigation by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Okanogan County Sheriff.
People who have lost structures or sustained damage should call Emergency Management at (509) 422-7206.
The Sourdough Fire in North Cascades National Park has closed the Sourdough Mountain Trail to its junction with Big Beaver Trail and Sourdough and Pierce Mountain camps.
Activity on the Sourdough Fire increased over the weekend in heavy dead and downed fuels and warm, windy weather, but there was no significant spread Sunday night, according to Katy Hooper, Deputy Chief for Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers for the park. The fire was detected on Saturday morning (July 29). It was ignited by lightning in thunderstorms on Wednesday, according to Hooper.
Four helicopters and six scooper planes have been dumping water to support firefighters on the ground. Aerial operations were suspended for approximately 45 minutes over the weekend because of unauthorized drone flights near the fire, which caused a significant safety risk and increased fire activity during the temporary halt, Hooper said.
Overall, aerial operations have successfully kept the fire in check when aircraft are able to fly.
A Type-3 team was expected to assume control of the fire on Tuesday (Aug. 1).
Dry and breezy conditions were forecast for the remainder of the week before the possibility of moisture to the area, Hooper said.
Campfires and the use of wood, charcoal briquettes, or any fuel in fire pits and barbeque grills are banned throughout the North Cascades National Park Service Complex as of Monday, July 24.