Fueled by powerful winds and unseasonably hot temperatures, a wildfire burning in Washington State exploded to 2,000 acres Sunday, forcing thousands of evacuations.
The blaze, dubbed the Nakia Creek Fire, began October 9 on Larch Mountain, northeast of Camas in Clark County near the Oregon border, smoldering and creeping through steep, rocky terrain in the Yacolt Burn State Forest.
The fire grew in size from 156 acres to 2,000 acres in a matter of hours Sunday amid severe weather conditions, with extreme warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Firefighters reported good progress battling the blaze earlier in the week, then weather conditions worsened, with winds fanning the flames as it tore through dry timber, brush and grass. The Nakia Creek Fire was 5% contained by Sunday night.
“The easterly winds were so strong today that air assets were grounded at times for safety,” Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency officials said in an evening update.
As the fire exploded in extremely steep terrain and spotted farther out, more residents were told to leave their homes.
Nearly 3,000 homes were under evacuation orders as of Sunday night, and thousands more were told to get ready to flee.
A Red Flag warning was extended through Sunday for the area, amid unseasonable heat and dry easterly winds.
This year’s fire season has been a long one for fire crews in Washington State who have been putting in long days for several months, Clark County officials said, noting that fire season is usually over for the area in October.
“With the current weather patterns here in the PNW, we have another good week of potential fire weather,” Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency officials said, describing a fire official telling crews that “while the calendar may say it’s October 16th… I need you to think like it’s August 16th.”
Some cities in the area saw record-high temperatures over the weekend. The temperature in Seattle hit 88 degrees Sunday, marking its second-warmest October day on record and breaking the daily record of 72 degrees set in 2018, according to the National Weather Service.
Authorities reported other fires in the area Sunday, including near Chelatchie Prairie and Sunset Campground in Clark County, as well as several in neighboring Skamania County.