SEATTLE — Fast-growing fires drove more smoke across Puget Sound on Saturday, prompting mandatory evacuations in several rural communities and closing two freeway passes over the Cascades.
The Goat Rocks Fire ignited in Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Friday, quickly burning more than 1,200 acres and evacuating neighborhoods east of Packwood near Mount Rainier. The fire’s rapid growth in red flag conditions prompted authorities to close Highway 12 between Packwood and the White Pass summit until at least the end of the weekend.
To the north, the Bolt Creek Fire ignited near Skykomish Saturday morning and grew from 20 acres to 2,000 acres by afternoon. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for residents from Index to Skykomish. The Washington State Patrol worked with state transportation crews to close 20 miles of Highway 2 from east of Gold Bar to the east end of Skykomish.
The state Department of Natural Resources said a mobilization request has been approved to contain the fire, with up to 400 homes in the evacuation zone. The state Fire Marshal’s Office said flames were burning through heavy wood and brushwood, threatening homes and infrastructure at Bonneville Power.
State ecology officials said smoke from both fires would add to existing air quality concerns across western Washington through the weekend, with the worst impacts likely to be in Snohomish and Lewis counties. Forecasters said smoke from a wildfire burning in Oregon would also drift north across Washington, but the impact at ground level should be minimal.
“Thick medium smoke from the Cedar Creek fire in Oregon is being pushed north by changing mean winds and will sweep west Washington from south to north [Saturday]’ wrote Matthew Dehr, the state’s leading wildfire forecaster. “This smoke rises above the ground and should not contribute significantly to any further reduction in air quality, but will actually help keep temperatures down a few degrees [Saturday] Afternoon and limit the minimum [relative humidity] Values experienced in the Puget Lowlands. “
The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow tool showed air quality readings ranging from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “unhealthy” around Seattle and the Eastside early Saturday afternoon.
Some improvement in air quality is still forecast for most of the region through Sunday. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency expects most of King County to improve to the “moderate” range, with most areas cleared more through Monday.
“Conditions will begin to improve for western Washington on Sunday, with a return of ‘good’ air quality seen in most areas west of the Cascade Ridge Monday,” Dehr said. “Poor air quality will continue through Monday in eastern Washington but will improve over the week.”
Air Quality Alerts for Puget Sound and the Olympic region was scheduled to sail at 6 p.m. Sunday. A red flag warning for western Washington was due to expire at midnight but will remain in place along the western slopes of the Cascades through Sunday evening.
Residents can find updated air quality forecasts via the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and check for daily updates on the Washington Smoke Blog. Live wildfire smoke conditions are available using The EPA’s AirNow tool.