Highway 20 still closed, remains very hazardous
Crews fighting the Sourdough Fire near Diablo Lake have set up hoses and sprinklers, dropped water from helicopters, and dropped fuel with a drone to gradually burn trees and vegetation and deter the fire from encroaching further along the North Cascades Highway.
After minimal activity and even light rain on the fire late last week, hot and windy conditions pushed the blaze west along Gorge Lake toward Newhalem, according to Northwest Incident Management Team 10.
After a five-day closure, the North Cascades Highway reponed for a day and a half on Wednesday (Aug. 9), before hazardous conditions forced the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to close it again late Thursday afternoon (Aug. 10) from milepost 120 in Newhalem to milepost 146 just west of Granite Creek. As of Tuesday (Aug. 15), there was no estimate of when the highway might open.
As the fire burned toward the west early this week, boulders and trees were falling on the roadway. Although the amount of rock and tree fall had decreased as of Tuesday (Aug. 15), the road remains “very, very hazardous” and the incident management team is keeping fire crews away from the road unless absolutely necessary, Operations Section Chief Dean Lange said.
A small spot fire ignited on the south side of the highway over the weekend, which has been extinguished and is being monitored with infrared equipment, Lange said.
Air quality in the vicinity of the fire has been very poor, creating problems for firefighters and limiting the use of aircraft, Lange said.
Crews were working on Monday to contain new fire spread along Stetattle Creek, which flows into Gorge Lake, Lange said.
On Saturday (Aug. 12), crews used a drone to ignite thick vegetation north of Gorge Lake. This burnout technique is intended to slowly bring fire down the hillside to consume fuel and reduce the threat that the southwest flank of the fire will spread rapidly along the highway and toward Newhalem, Lange said. One strategy is to tie into the 2015 Goodell Creek Fire scar, which burned almost 7,000 acres near Newhalem just west of the Sourdough blaze.
The Seattle City Light high-voltage powerline from Diablo and Ross dams was reenergized on Wednesday (Aug. 9), after being off for a week after workers were evacuated and to protect infrastructure. The fire team hopes to be able to bring in power-company crews this week to reenergize the powerline along the highway, Lange said.
They’ve cleared brush and plumbed the powerline corridor leading north and east from Diablo to use as a fire break should the fire move in that direction.
Crews have been checking for heat in the Diablo community and around the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center using handheld infrared devices, Operations Section Chief Josh Reipe said. After several days with no heat detection, crews are starting to mop up those areas. Ross Lake Resort is also well protected.
The portion of the fire on Sourdough Mountain hasn’t progressed in recent days, being controlled by helicopter bucket drops and by rocky terrain near the summit. The Sourdough lookout is wrapped in protective foil and surrounded by retardant.
After a few days of cooler and damper weather, fire activity is expected to increase in hot, dry and unstable conditions this week. Temperatures will reach the mid-90s, with relative humidity in the low teens — extremely hot and dry for this North Cascades, according to the management team.
As of Tuesday (Aug. 15), the fire had burned 2,953 acres and was 11% contained, according to the management team.
The Sourdough Fire started with a lightning strike on July 29.