Fueled by high winds and unusually warm temperatures, a wildfire burning in Washington state exploded to 2,000 acres on Sunday, forcing thousands of evacuations.
The Nakia Creek Fire began Oct. 9 on Larch Mountain, northeast of Camas in Clark County near the Oregon border, smoldering and crawling through steep, rocky terrain in the Yacolt Burn State Forest.
The fire grew from 156 acres to 2,000 acres in a matter of hours Sunday under severe weather conditions of extreme hot temperatures, low humidity and high winds, according to Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Firefighters reported good progress fighting the blaze earlier this week, after which weather conditions worsened, with winds fanning the flames as they tore through dry timber, brush and grass. The fire was 5% contained by Sunday evening.
“The easterly winds were so strong today that air assets were grounded at times for safety,” Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency officials said in an evening update.
As the fire exploded in extremely steep terrain, several residents were told to leave their homes.
Nearly 3,000 homes were under evacuation orders Sunday night, and thousands more were told to prepare to flee.
Inmates from the Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt were evacuated to other correctional facilities, state officials said Sunday.
The Washington Department of Corrections said it is working with county emergency officials to determine “the best course of action to ensure the health and safety of our staff and those in our care and custody.”
A red flag warning was extended through Sunday for the area, amid unseasonably warm and dry easterly winds.
This year’s fire season has been a long one for Washington State fire crews, who have been putting in long days for months, Clark County officials said, noting that fire season is usually over for the area by October.
“With the current weather patterns here in the PNW, we have another good week of potential fire weather,” Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency officials said, describing a fire official telling crews that “while the calendar may say it’s the 16th. October … I need you to think like it’s August 16.”
Some towns in the area experienced record high temperatures over the weekend. The temperature in Seattle hit 88 degrees Sunday, marking its second warmest October day on record, beating the daily record of 72 degrees set in 2018, according to National Weather Service.
Authorities reported other fires in the area Sunday, including near Chelatchie Prairie and Sunset Campground in Clark County, as well as several in neighboring Skamania County.
As the firefight continues, winds are expected to ease, but temperatures will remain well above average for the next few days, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.
The Nakia fire is in an area where temperatures are about 10 degrees above average, and warm conditions will last through Thursday before dropping to average and below average for the weekend, Shackelford said. Rain is also likely through the weekend, bringing much-needed relief to firefighters.