A heat wave bound for Eastern Washington this weekend could aggravate raging fires already in the area.
Temperatures there are expected to climb past 100 degrees this weekend, according to Matt Fugazzi, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane. A hot, dry climate, he said, can turn land into “organic gasoline, just waiting for any spark or trigger.”
The state Department of Natural Resources is already fighting four active fires within its southeast region: three in Douglas County and one larger fire in Chelan County near Entiat.
The Mills Canyon fire, about two miles west of Entiat, grew to nearly 28 square miles on Thursday and threatened more than 200 structures. Residents of 109 structures were told to evacuate the area immediately and residents of another 122 were told to be on alert or be ready for an evacuation.
A 30-mile stretch of Highway 97A was closed for a time Thursday after the fire reached the roadway, causing heavy smoke conditions and debris to roll onto the road. It re-opened shortly before 6 p.m., according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
To curb any potential growth, the DNR has asked 35 fire engines and helicopter crews to work seven-day weeks, instead of five-day weeks.
”We rotate them so we have coverage all the time,” said spokeswoman Debbie Robinson.
While crews are usually asked to work longer hours in the summer, Robinson said this year’s preparations began two weeks earlier. Fugazzi added that extreme heat and dry conditions usually pose a threat in August.
Eastern Washington has also been under a burn ban since July 1. All fires are illegal unless contained within an approved fire ring in a designated campground.
With help from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, fire crews will be patrolling recreational areas for bonfires and informing the public about wildfires, Robinson said.
While the Puget Sound area might see temperatures rise into the 90s, Eastern Washington’s only saving grace could be a small thunderstorm forecast in Seattle for Saturday night, said Brent Bower, hydrologist and fire weather forecaster for the National Weather Service in SeaTac. The storm, he said, is expected to cross the Cascades on Sunday. A particularly wet storm can dampen the potential for fires.
Seattle isn’t totally spared — an excessive heat watch is in effect for the city and surrounding area from Saturday morning through Sunday evening. Highs on both days will be in the 90s, and overnight lows won’t fall below 65 degrees, according to the weather service.
“It’s our hottest stretch for the year,” Bower said.
Officials noted that Thursday was the 13-year anniversary of the infamous Thirty Mile Fire, in which four firefighters died while battling a blaze in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
“We continue to remember, reflect and learn,” the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said.
Photos: Mills Canyon fire