Tropical Storm Hilary’s path brings much-needed rain over deadly Washington wildfires

Washington governor declares state of emergency

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Monday 21 August 2023 21:09 BST
US: Evacuation Order Issued As Gray Fire Rages In Medical Lake, Spokane

From the collision of deadly, climate-driven disasters in the United States emerged a small sliver of good fortune on Monday.

Tropical Story Hillary, which has deluged Mexico, California and Nevada, is now bringing much-needed rain over the wildfires raging in Washington state as the system moves north.

The overlap of the events was seen in satellite imagery shared by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University on Monday. Researchers noted that heavy smoke from fires in the Northwest, and also in British Columbia, Canada, was visible outside of the cloud cover.

Two people were killed by the Washington wildfires this weekend amid a state of emergency.

Two large fires broke out in the US Northwest region, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported on Monday, close to the city of Spokane.

One person died due to the Oregon Road Fire in Spokane County, according to the local sheriff’s office. A separate fatality was linked to the Grays Fire, which ignited close to the community of Cheney on Friday afternoon. Hundreds of people were evacuated from the blaze which has engulfed more than 10,000 acres and also threatened the towns of Medical Lake and Four Lakes.

The Grays Fire was only 10 per cent contained, Spokane County Emergency Management reported on Sunday, but did not appear to be growing towards Medical Lake or Four Lakes.

“Still a lot of hazards within the burned areas. Natural gas lines venting off, trees coming down...” officials said.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, noting that more than 34,000 acres have burned statewide. Nearly 200 structures, both houses and outbuildings, have also been destroyed.

In Medical Lake, Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center was evacuated and many residents have “lost everything,” according to the governor.

“We sincerely thank the emergency first responders for their tireless efforts in containing the fire and ensuring community safety. Your courage in putting your lives at risk to protect our families is deeply appreciated,” he wrote in a Twitter thread.

Wildfire smoke led to air quality alerts until noon local time on Monday in several parts of the state, reaching unhealthy levels for sensitive groups. Air quality remains poor across most of Washington, the National Weather Service reported on Monday, with a slight improvement along the coast.

High winds have worsened the fires in eastern Washington, around 300 miles from Seattle, with blazes exacerbated by ongoing dry conditions and high temperatures in much of the Northwest this summer.

There are currently 93 wildfires in 16 states, which have destroyed more than 600,000 acres, according to the NIFC, with more than 14,400 wildland firefighters and support personnel on the ground.

A map shows the number of wildfires burning across the US and Canada on Monday (NASA/USDA Forest Service)

Six new large fires were reported on Saturday – two in Mississippi, and one each in California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

Just over the border from Washington state, Canadian officials have ordered evacuations for tens of thousands of people in British Columbia amid an unprecedented summer of wildfires in the country. There are more than 1,000 fires were burning across Canada on Monday with more than half raging out of control.

In Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, nearly all of its 20,000 residents have been evacuated due to the extreme fires.

The climate crisis, caused by the emissions from fossil fuels, is driving larger, more frequent and erratic wildfires around the world with many countries are becoming hotter and drier, priming more of the landscape to burn.

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