A red flag warning for most of Western Washington has state officials and emergency responders closely monitoring conditions and warning the public to avoid any activity that could spark a new fire.
Officials at the state's emergency management center said there are about 200 fires burning in Washington state, with 2,845 firefighters deployed against them. About 700 homes have been evacuated, officials said, and fires are threatening another 623 homes.
A huge map at the center shows the major fires in the state and the red flag zone's boundaries, while huge patches of black on the map indicate the presence of smoke.
“This is a concern we need to watch,” spokesperson Rob Harper said of the smoke. “It’s affecting a number of areas and in certain points like Wenatchee it’s hazardous. It’s one of the highest readings they can record for health warnings.”
The situation prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to issue an emergency proclamation Thursday to direct additional state resources toward fighting the fires, including activating National Guard resources.
"This is one of the worst fire situations that I can recall during my time as governor," Gregoire said. "Firefighters have done a tremendous job to keep people safe, and keep the number of homes lost to a minimum. But they need more resources -- especially as we expect weather conditions to remain less than favorable."
Thursday afternoon, a three-alarm brush fire near the Bremerton airport demonstrated how dry the conditions are. The Department of Natural Resources tracks all the fires in the state and said in the last 24 hours, there were at least seven fires in the red flag area of western Washington. Firefighters were able to keep all of them under the “initial attack goal” of under 10 acres or less.
If a small brush fire blows up, the state fire marshal’s office said it does not have the resources to preposition teams.
“Fire resources are scarce at this point,” said Melissa Gannie, deputy state fire marshal. So we’ve had to move teams from one fire to another.”
State officials say everyone has to be vigilant. That means no open flames outside, including camp fires, drip torches, and definitely no cigarettes tossed out of car windows.