Orange Sun, July 30, 2018

This morning the sun was an orange disk rising through a murky pall of forest fire smoke. According to news reports, the smoke is a thick brew of burnt trees that’s flowing in from Siberia, Canada and Washington State.

We had our own smoke-generating fire last night when a west-bound car caught fire along I-90 between the Roslyn and Cle Elum exits. It started around 6 p.m. and the piney woods on the north side of the freeway lit up immediately. Fortunately the fire fighting response was fast and furious. I listened on the scanner as fire engines and crews rolled in and set up to put water on the flames. The Incident Commander ordered up air resources right way. No dithering there! Within a half hour of that, there were fixed-wing and rotor craft dropping water on the fire. I saw at least three airplanes with pontoons flying back and forth between Lake Cle Elum and the fire.

Despite being certain that the fire would be put down, I still retrieved my go-bag from the closet and mentally prepared to evacuate. When someone got on the radio and asked about evacuating Suncadia resort, I got a little nervous. However, by sundown, the fire was contained and being extinguished. Dawn was lucky to miss the fun as she was camping in the high country.

My hat is off to the crews and their leaders. Quick, decisive action prevented the dry Ponderosa pine forest from turning into a full-blown freight train of a crown fire. If there had been a sustained wind of 10+ mph, that fire would’ve been difficult to catch. Depending on the wind direction, it could’ve swept through the trees toward Roslyn or Cle Elum.

This is starting to feel like last year, when the Jolly Mountain Fire threatened local communities. Another fire feels inevitable given the extreme weather conditions, dryness and potential ignitions sources of lightning, accident or human stupidity. We’re going to keep our go-bags handy and up to date.

Water dropping plane on approach to Lake Cle Elum during last year’s Jolly Mountain Fire.

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