2015 Washington wildfires

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2015 Washington wildfires
Wolverine Fire smoke plume (19692555814).jpg
Smoke plume over the Wolverine Fire on August 4
Statistics
Total fires 1,541[1]
Total area 1,005,423 acres (406,880 ha)[1]
Cost $253 million [2]
Fatalities 3[3]
Non-fatal injuries 4[4]
Season
← 2014
2016 →

The 2015 wildfire season was the largest in Washington state history,[5] with more than one million acres (400,000 ha; 1,600 sq mi) burning across the state from June to September.[1] As many as 3,000 firefighters including 800 Washington National Guard members were deployed to fight the fires.[6][7] The 17th Field Artillery Brigade of the United States Army also deployed 200 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis–McChord to help fight the fires.[8]

On August 21, President Barack Obama declared the fires a federal emergency.[9] Because of the enormous extent of the fire activity, for the first time in Washington state history, officials asked residents to volunteer to assist in fighting the wildfires.[9] On August 24, the Washington Department of Natural Resources announced the Okanogan Complex fire had become the largest fire complex in Washington State history.[10]

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources called the season the "worst-ever" in the state's history.[11]

Progression and response[edit]

June[edit]

June 2015 was a remarkably hot month for the state of Washington, with average temperatures between 4 and 9 °F (2 and 5 °C) above normal conditions, setting new records.[12][13]

By June 23, there had already been 313 wildfires across the state.[14]

Governor's action[edit]

Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation on June 26, declaring a state of emergency to exist in all Washington state counties, implementing the Washington State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, and ordering deployment of National Guard and other organized militia for incident-related service assistance, all because of the predicted risk of wildfires in the wake of significantly drier-than-average weather in June.[14][15] The Commissioner of Public Lands Peter J. Goldmark, head of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, issued an updated burn ban to the one issued June 22, as the earlier ban was superseded by the Governor's proclamation. The Commissioner's prohibition of campfires in state forests, state parks and state forestlands until September 30, 2015, was issued June 26, 2015.[14][16]

Sleepy Hollow fire[edit]

Sleepy Hollow Fire (2015) in Monitor close to where it was ignited, heading over the ridge and into the town of Wenatchee, WA
A wildfire in 2015 destroyed 29 homes in Wenatchee as well as fruit warehouses and a recycling center.
Mop up on a fruit warehouse fire that started at a recycling center from burning embers from a nearby wildfire- the Sleepy Hollow Fire.

The season began unprecedentedly early with the Sleepy Hollow Fire on June 28, affecting the city of Wenatchee in Chelan County, Washington. It burned 2,950 acres, destroying 29 homes and several commercial buildings.[17] The cause of the fire is under investigation but is "likely human-caused".[18] Officials said the fire's unusual intensity was caused by drought and record high temperatures.[19] As a safety precaution, officials banned Fourth of July fireworks in many parts of the state.[20] A man was arrested in connection with the fire, confessing to starting it with a disposable lighter, but faced no charges due to his mental illness.[21]

July[edit]

By July 12, over 16,000 acres had burned, including a single fire near Ephrata, in Grant County, that had burned at least 10,000 acres.[22] Later in the month, another major fire was triggered by farm equipment near Walla Walla and burned more than 6,000 acres over two weeks.[23]

August[edit]

MODIS aerial imagery of Washington on August 22, showing the Puget Sound region covered in smoke from wildfires in Eastern Washington.
An airtanker plane dropping fire retardant over the advancing Chelan Butte wildfire (part of the Chelan Complex fire)

The extent of wildfires in August 2015 led to the federal declaration of a state of emergency in Washington state by President Barack Obama on August 21, 2015.[24][25]

By August 24, over 16 active fires had burned more than 920 square miles (2,400 km2).[26]

On August 29 there was concern that unusually strong southerly winds would cause "significant growth" of the Tunk Block and Lime Belt fires in the Okanogan complex and growth in the Chelan complex fires. The Twisp River and Nine Mile fires were about 95 percent contained.[27]

Chelan Complex[edit]

Three fires on the south end of Lake Chelan, near the city of Chelan, merged into a complex fire and forced the immediate evacuation of over 1,000 residents on August 14.[28] By August 16, the Reach Complex Fire had grown to 54,500 acres (22,100 ha), while the Wolverine fire burned nearly 39,000 acres (16,000 ha).[29] According to Rico Smith, a spokesman for the fire fighters near Chelan, by August 29 "about 85 homes, businesses and other residences [had] been destroyed by the Chelan complex fires."[27]

Okanogan Complex[edit]

The Okanogan Complex Fire was formed from five separate wildfires in Okanogan County, of which all but one were caused by lightning strikes, burning approximately 96,034 acres (38,864 ha) by August 20.[30] The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal grants on August 14 for the Nine Mile Fire, one of the five fires that are part of the Okanogan Complex, determining that it constituted a "major disaster".[31] Over 1,300 residents in the towns of Twisp and Winthrop were ordered to evacuate because of the approaching Twisp River Fire.[4] On August 19, 2015, three firefighters were killed battling a wildfire near Twisp.[32]

By August 24, the fire had grown to 256,657 acres (103,865 ha),[33] surpassing the Carlton Complex fire of 2014 to become the largest wildfire complex in Washington state history.[26] By August 28 "at least 45 primary residences, 49 cabins and 60 outbuildings [were] destroyed in the Okanogan complex fires."[27] The size of the complex peaked at 304,782 acres (123,341 ha) on August 30,[34] before the transfer of the 161,440-acre (65,330 ha) Tunk Block Fire under the North Star Fire on August 31.[35]

September[edit]

International assistance[edit]

After the emergency declaration in August, President Obama[9] asked Australian Fire Services (including those of the Black Saturday bushfires) to aid the depleted American services.[36] By August 24, about 70 fire managers from Australia and New Zealand arrived at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to be briefed and provided with gear before heading west to fight the fires.[37]

Air quality[edit]

As a result of the wildfires, air quality across the state and into Canada[38] dropped to unhealthy levels in many cities and led to the issuing of several air quality alerts by the U.S. National Weather Service[39][40] and Environment Canada. Omak, located 15 miles (24 km) northeast of the Okanogan Complex fire, reported an air quality index rating of 500 on August 24.[41][42] The city of Spokane, 150 miles (240 km) from the fires, reported a rating of 188 on August 24, forcing high school athletics and other outdoor activities to be canceled.[41][43] By Tuesday, August 25, Environment Canada had posted an Air Quality Health Index alert for cities as far away as Calgary, Alberta—400 miles (640 km)—with a score of 12. The Canadian Air Quality Health Index, measured on a scale of one to 10-plus with 10 as “very high risk”, is based on measurements of "ozone at ground level, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide".[44][45] By Wednesday the third day of the thick haze of smoke, air quality in Calgary scored 17.[46][47]

Smoke from the Chelan Complex fire was pushed westward over Seattle and the Puget Sound region by upper level winds on August 22, causing hazy weather and worsened air quality for several days.[48][49]

Aftermath[edit]

In December, Governor Jay Inslee proposed a supplemental budget that included $178 million to cover the costs incurred by the state in fighting the wildfires.[50][51]

List of fires[edit]

As of August 28, 2015[52]
Name Location Area burned[n 1] Dates Cause Notes
Acres Hectares Began/Reported Ended[n 2]
231 fire Spokane Indian Reservation and Stevens County 1,138 461 July 3, 2015 July 12, 2015 Under investigation
Alder Lake fire Gifford Pinchot National Forest 253 102 July 26, 2015 Active (10% contained) Lightning
Blankenship fire Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests 180 73 July 14, 2015 Active
Blue Creek fire Walla Walla County 6,004 2,430 July 20, 2015 Active (95% contained) Under investigation
Carpenter Road fire Spokane Indian Reservation and Stevens County 46,691 18,895 August 12, 2015 Active (25% contained) Unknown
Chelan Complex Chelan County 90,210 36,510 August 14, 2015 Active (52% contained) Complex of 5 fires
Colville Complex Ferry and Stevens counties 9,879 3,998 August 14, 2015 Active (48% contained) Complex of 3 fires
Cougar Creek Yakama Indian Reservation and Gifford Pinchot National Forest 49,200 19,900 August 10, 2015 Active (25% contained) Lightning
Douglas County Complex Douglas County 22,337 9,039 July 10, 2015 July 15, 2015 Lightning Complex of 2 fires
Grizzly Bear Complex Umatilla National Forest 72,421 29,308 August 13, 2015 Active (10% contained) Lightning Complex of 17 fires; includes portion in Oregon
Highway 8 fire Klickitat County 33,100 13,400 August 4, 2015 Active (95% contained) Unknown
Kaniksu Complex Colville National Forest and Pend Oreille County 16,335 6,611 August 11, 2015 Active (10% contained) Lightning Complex of 7 fires
Kettle Complex Ferry County 62,292 25,209 August 11, 2015 Active (16% contained) Lightning Complex of 3 fires
Marble Valley Stevens County 3,087 1,249 August 14, 2015 Active (85% contained) Unknown
Mount Adams Complex Gifford Pinchot National Forest 405 164 July 10, 2015 Active (78% contained) Unknown Complex of 4 fires
Newby Lake fire Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests 5,065 2,050 July 2, 2015 Active (95% contained) Lightning Includes portion in British Columbia
North Boulder 2 Ferry County 233 94 July 20, 2015 Active (80% contained) Lightning
North Star Colville Indian Reservation, Colville National Forest,
and Okanogan and Ferry counties
192,900 78,100 August 13, 2015 Active (22% contained) Human
Okanogan Complex Okanogan County 302,224 122,306 August 15, 2015 Active (12% contained) Lightning Complex of 5 fires; second-largest in Washington state history[26]
Includes portion in British Columbia
Paradise Fire Olympic National Park 2,796 1,132 May 15, 2015 Active (40% contained) Lightning
PC Complex Clark and Cowlitz counties 129 52 July 16, 2015 July 24, 2015 Human Complex of 5 fires
Saddle Lakes fire Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge 14,357 5,810 June 28, 2015 July 16, 2015 Lightning
Sleepy Hollow fire Chelan County 2,950 1,190 June 28, 2015 July 6, 2015 Human[53]
Thunder Creek North Cascades National Park 103 42 May 30, 2015 Active (60% contained) Lightning
Twenty-One Mile Grade Colville Indian Reservation 2,250 910 July 1, 2015 July 10, 2015 Human
Upper Skagit Complex North Cascades National Park 7,878 3,188 August 10, 2015 Active (37% contained) Lightning Complex of 8 fires
Williams fire Stevens County 332 134 July 3, 2015 July 10, 2015 Under investigation
Wolverine fire Wenatchee National Forest 62,167 25,158 June 29, 2015 Active (28% contained) Lightning Part of Chelan Complex
Notes
  1. ^ At greatest extent.
  2. ^ Indicates date the fire was declared 100% contained.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "2015 Northwest Fire Statistics to Date". NWCC Info. Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. September 30, 2015. Retrieved December 2, 2015. 
  2. ^ Mapes, Jeff (September 30, 2015). "After wildfires rage in the West, Congress moves to provide $700 million in emergency aid". The Oregonian. Retrieved December 2, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Fallen firefighters remembered as heroes as thousands battle blazes across west". Fox News. August 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Warren, Ted S.; Johnson, Gene (August 20, 2015). "3 Firefighters Die in Wildfire After Vehicle Crashes". ABC News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 25, 2015. 
  5. ^ Kamb, Lewis; Doughton, Sandi; González, Ángel (August 21, 2015). "Washington wildfires rage; Obama declares state of emergency". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 10, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Wildfires explode in size as high winds blast region". KOMO-TV. August 21, 2015. Archived from the original on December 20, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  7. ^ "On the front lines: 800 National Guard troops join battle against raging wildfires". Q13 FOX News. Retrieved December 2, 2015. 
  8. ^ "On the Front Lines". Q13 FOX News. August 24, 2015. Archived from the original on December 2, 2015. Retrieved December 2, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c "Washington recruits volunteer firefighters as wildfires declared federal emergency". RT. August 21, 2015. Archived from the original on August 23, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Okanogan Complex fire the largest in Washington state history". Ottawa, Ontario: CBC News. Associated Press. August 25, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  11. ^ "2015 Wildfire Summary" (PDF). Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  12. ^ Broom, Jack (July 1, 2015). "June breaks record as warmest, fanning fears of more fires". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  13. ^ "June Event Summary" (PDF). Office of the Washington Climatologist. July 7, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c "Governor Inslee and Commissioner of Public Lands Goldmark take steps to reduce wildfire risk" (Press release). Office of the Governor of Washington. June 26, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  15. ^ Inslee, Jay (June 26, 2015). "Proclamation by the Governor 15–11" (PDF). Office of the Governor of Washington. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  16. ^ Goldmark, Peter J. "Commissioner's Order 201526" (PDF). Washington Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Sleepy Hollow Final Update 7_4_15". Inciweb. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. July 4, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Sleepy Hollow Fire person of interest sought". KING-TV. July 6, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  19. ^ La Ganga, Maria (July 4, 2015). "Washington's wildfire season gets off to an early, unprecedented start". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  20. ^ "Bans in effect across Washington state for fireworks". KIRO-TV. Associated Press. July 2, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  21. ^ Robbins, Jefferson (December 7, 2016). "Criminal charge dismissed for Sleepy Hollow Fire suspect". Wenatchee World. Retrieved March 15, 2017. 
  22. ^ "Wildfires engulf swaths of Washington state". CNN. July 12, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  23. ^ "UPDATE: Evacuation Notices & Road Closures Lifted for Blue Creek Fire Near Walla Walla". NBC Right Now. August 7, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  24. ^ "President Obama Signs Washington Emergency Declaration" (Press release). Federal Emergency Management Agency. August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 21, 2015. 
  25. ^ Camden, Jim (August 21, 2015). "Obama signs Emergency Declaration for Washington". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved August 21, 2015. 
  26. ^ a b c Fieldstadt, Elisha (August 24, 2015). "Okanogan Complex: Washington Wildfire Is Now Largest in State History". NBC News. Associated Press. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  27. ^ a b c "Firefighters fear wildfires will be spurred by winds". Seattle News. August 29, 2015. Retrieved August 29, 2015. 
  28. ^ Bush, Evan; Lee, Jessica (August 14, 2015). "Merged wildfires surround Chelan, prompt massive evacuation". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 14, 2015. 
  29. ^ O'Sullivan, Joseph; Day, Matt (August 16, 2015). "160 homes threatened near Chelan, thousands evacuated". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 16, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Okanogan Complex Fire Update". InciWeb. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. August 20, 2015. Retrieved August 20, 2015. 
  31. ^ "FEMA provides federal funds to help fight Nine Mile Fire" (Press release). Federal Emergency Management Agency. August 14, 2015. Retrieved August 14, 2015. 
  32. ^ Johnson, M. Alex (August 21, 2015). "Three Firefighters Killed in Washington Blaze Identified". NBC News. Retrieved August 21, 2015. 
  33. ^ "Okanogan Complex Update – August 24". InciWeb (Press release). National Wildfire Coordinating Group. August 24, 2015. Archived from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Okanogan Complex Update - August 30". InciWeb (Press release). National Wildfire Coordinating Group. August 30, 2015. Archived from the original on September 1, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Okanogan Complex and Chelan Complex Fire Update for Aug. 31, 2015". InciWeb (Press release). National Wildfire Coordinating Group. August 31, 2015. Archived from the original on September 4, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  36. ^ "Australian firefighters head to US to help battle wildfires", Ninemsn, August 25, 2015, retrieved August 25, 2015 
  37. ^ "Idaho firefighters make progress, international help arrives". Krem via Associated Press. Boise, Idaho. August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Okanogan Complex fire the largest in Washington state history: Smoke from the massive fire has led to smoke advisories across B.C." CBC. The Associated Press. August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Air Quality Alert". National Weather Service. August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  40. ^ Dolce, Chris (August 24, 2015). "Satellite Images Show Air Quality Is Worse in Some Northwestern Towns Than Beijing". The Weather Channel. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  41. ^ a b "Spokane air will stay unhealthy through Wednesday". The Spokesman-Review. August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  42. ^ Trotter, Molly (August 24, 2015). "Okanogan air quality drops from wildfires". KREM-TV. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  43. ^ McCann, Erin (August 24, 2015). "Washington wildfires break state record: just how big is the blaze?". The Guardian. Retrieved August 24, 2015. 
  44. ^ "Environment Canada declares Calgary's air quality 'very high risk' as smoke blankets city skies". National Post via Postmedia News. Calgary, Alberta. August 25, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  45. ^ Jeremy Simes, Lucie Edwardson (August 25, 2015). "Some Calgarians desperate for fresh air as heavy smoke lingers Extremely poor air quality especially hard on people with asthma, kids, and athletes". Calgary, Alberta: Metro News. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  46. ^ Daniel Martins (August 26, 2015). "Poor air quality off the charts as smoke chokes the west". The Weather Network. Calgary, Alberta. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  47. ^ Melissa Ramsay (August 26, 2015). "Third day of bad air quality in Calgary, causing health concerns". Calgary, Alberta: Global News. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  48. ^ "Smoky skies cause air quality concerns". KING-TV. August 22, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  49. ^ Sistek, Scott (August 22, 2015). "Watch: 'Smoke front' from Chelan wildfires moves into Seattle area". KOMO-TV. Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  50. ^ Dial, Tracci (December 17, 2015). "Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Addresses Wildfire Costs, Mental Health in Supplement Budget Proposal". Yakima, Washington: NBC Right Now. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  51. ^ O'Sullivan, Joseph (January 12, 2016). "State of the State: Inslee wants money for schools, mental health, wildfires". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  52. ^ "Washington Incidents". Inciweb. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. August 23, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  53. ^ "Man arrested, charged with arson in Sleepy Hollow Fire that destroyed nearly 30 homes". Q13 FOX News. March 24, 2016. Retrieved May 23, 2016. 

External links[edit]