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Wildfires Erupt in the Pacific Northwest

October 21, 2022

A series of recent wildfires ignited or spread this past week as warm, dry, and windy conditions—a rarity for the rainy Pacific Northwest—have swept across Washington, bringing some of the driest October weather conditions to the region in decades.

One of these fires, which has generated a significant amount of smoke, is the Bolt Creek Fire, which, as of Thursday, Oct. 20, had consumed more than 14,700 acres and was 43% contained. The blaze began on Sept. 10 and is believed to have been caused by human activity. 

Other fires have shown active growth, such as the Loch Katrine Fire, the 8 Road Fire, the Goat Rocks Fire and the Nakia Creek Fire

According to InciWeb, the Loch Katrine Fire was estimated to be roughly 1.918 acres in size as of Oct. 20 and was 2% contained. The smaller 8 Road Fire started on Saturday, Oct. 15 and grew to roughly 158 acres, and is currently 50% contained. 

On Oct. 9, 2022, twenty-miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, the Nakia Creek Fire ignited near Vancouver, Washington in the Yacolt Burn State Forest, and grew from 156 acres to roughly 1,918 acres by Oct. 20. As heavy smoke filled the air across the region, flames broke past containment lines and prompted mass evacuations and road closures. In addition, crews initially fighting the blaze by air had to be grounded for safety due to dangerously strong winds, but as of Oct. 20, had the blaze 23% contained. Officials have determined the fire to be caused by human activity, and an investigation into the cause of the blaze is ongoing. 

As of Sunday evening, nearly 3,000 homes had been placed under “Level 3 Go Now,” while more than 5,000 homes were under “Level 2 Be Set,” and nearly 29,000 were warned to be ready to leave. Meanwhile, much of the region west of the Cascades experienced poor air quality over the weekend from the wildfire smoke. 

The Northwest has recently endured unseasonably warm and dry weather—conditions that fuel wildfires, a major threat that usually ends by October. Parts of Oregon and Washington broke high-temperature records Sunday for the fifth straight day, an unusual mid-October heatwave when the highs rarely climb above the low 60s. Portland International Airport has received only 0.31 of an inch of rain since Sept. 1—marking the third-driest instance of that time period on record.

Sixteen other large blazes are burning in Washington and six are active in Oregon, where the largest fire in the region, the Cedar Creek Fire, is still burning. 

Crews reached a significant milestone on Tuesday in the Cedar Creek Fire in central Oregon. Managers say the fire was 50% contained. The fire, which started by lightning on Aug. 1 about 15 miles east of Oakridge, has grown to 126,690 acres. As of Oct. 20, it is 55% contained. 

Since Jan. 1, 56,710 wildfires have burned 7,022,627 acres around the country. This is the most wildfires reported to date in the past 10 years. Currently, there are more than 333,213 acres burning across Oregon, the largest total area of any state. 

NOAA’s geostationary satellites provide timely and potentially life-saving information in a dynamic fire environment. GOES East and GOES West frequently detect fires before they are spotted on the ground, which is particularly important in remote areas, such as in the steep terrain surrounding the Cedar Creek Fire. The satellites also track fires in real time, identify and track smoke, and determine a fire’s size and temperature.

The Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP satellites play an important role in detecting and tracking wildfires, especially in remote regions. Their high spatial resolution imager detects smaller and lower-temperature fires and also provides nighttime fire detection. The data from these satellites is also critical to smoke models used by fire crews, first responders, and air traffic controllers.