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Fire danger grows; at least two new wildfires reported in Washington

A new fire is burning on the north side of the Columbia River west of the town of Underwood, Washington.
Courtesy of Skamania County Sheriff's Office/Facebook
A new fire is burning on the north side of the Columbia River west of the town of Underwood, Washington.

Washington state officials are bracing for wildfires that begin during this Fourth of July weekend.

On Sunday they announced they’re sending resources to two new fires.

One is burning in the Columbia Gorge, west of the town of Underwood on the northern side of the Columbia River. Officials have closed state Route 14for a ten-mile stretch, roughly across the river from Hood River, Oregon. Several structures were reportedly burned. Authorities set up a shelter at the Skamania County Fairgrounds for people displaced by the fire. Evacuation orders have been issued. As of last night it had burned more than 300 acres and is zero percent contained.

The second fire is burning near Selah in Yakima County. State officials say it’s burning about 400 acres of brush and grass and old growth timber. The fire is threatening homes, utility lines and cell phone towers. Evacuations orders are in effect.

Meanwhile, crews have nearly fully contained another Yakima County fire, the Rosa Creek fire, which has burned about 700 acres. And firefighters in Stevens County have the Moran Creek fire near Arden about half contained. It has burned about 60 acres.

Department of Natural Resources officials estimate as many as 85% of wildfires in the Northwest are human-caused. They urge people to be extra careful as they travel and play while the weather heats up.

Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says her department is prepared in case fires ignite.

“We have 29 air resources on exclusive use here in Washington state, pre positioned in high fire risk areas. Those are critical for us going on scene quickly and keeping fires under ten acres and saving homes,” she said.

DNR state forester George Geissler says state crews with about 700 firefighters are on standby as well.

“In addition to that, we also have local fire services that are called in and we also have our federal partners that are on board,” he said.

The holiday weekend brings the threat of fireworks use, as well as fires started by grilling food outdoors, campfires and driving vehicles on dry grass.

The long-term weather forecast is calling for an El Niño weather pattern which could mean hot, dry weather for the summer.

Forecasters expect smoke from Canadian wildfires to begin crossing the border and fouling the region’s air today. Spokane County officials expect the air quality to worsen as the day goes along and to fall into the moderate range.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for part of Okanogan County, including Omak, south through Chelan County and parts of Grant and Adams counties. It warns gusty winds, along with dry conditions, will elevate the possibility that new fires will spread.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.