Updated Oct 18, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Thousands evacuated in Washington state as 71 large fires burn in U.S.

 Firefighters battle flames from the Mosquito Fire on September 15, 2022 in Ramsey Crossing, California.

Firefighters in Ramsey Crossing, Calif., tackle the Mosquito Fire on Sept. 15. The biggest fire in California this year has burned nearly 76,800 acres and has been active for 41 days, though it's now largely contained. Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Evacuation orders remained for thousands in southwest Washington state on Tuesday due to a wind-driven wildfire in southwest Washington state that exploded to 2,000 acres over the weekend before diminishing slightly.

The latest: By Tuesday night, the Nakia Creek Fire was burning across nearly 1,800 acres and was 5% contained, according to Inciweb, an interagency website that tracks wildfires. Evacuation zones shrank further as "cooler temperatures and high relative humidity aided firefighters," per Inciweb.

Thought bubble, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: The most dangerous wildfire weather conditions, which helped propel several large blazes in Washington state this weekend, have begun to shift. Slightly cooler, more humid air is present in western Washington in particular, helping firefighters to battle the flames.

  • The strong easterly winds that dried out vegetation and yielded extreme fire behavior this weekend have died down. Temperatures are expected to remain milder than average through midweek, and by late this week, much cooler and rainy fall weather is forecast to arrive in the Pacific Northwest.

The big picture: There's an unusually high number of wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West and Canada as much of the northwestern contiguous U.S. faces "above normal temperatures and minimum relative humidity," per the National Inter Agency Fire Center.

The NWS tweet on record high temperatures in Washington state, including 72F in Seattle.
Photo: National Weather Service Seattle/Twitter
  • Record high temperatures, dry weather, wildfire concerns and air quality issues have plagued much of the Pacific Northwest this past week, according to the National Weather Service.
  • "Strong high pressure continues to produce anomalous warmth and air quality issues in the Pacific Northwest," the NWS noted on Tuesday night.

By the numbers: Washington's Nakia Creek Fire, near Camas, east of Vancouver, which prompted Sunday's evacuation orders, is one of 71 large fires in the U.S., according to the NIFC's latest data.

Zoom in: Smoke from that Washington wildfire in eastern Clark County has been "visible throughout the metropolitan area that Vancouver shares with Portland, Oregon," AP notes.

  • An air quality advisory remained in place for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in southwestern British Columbia due to wildfires in Washington and Canada, Metro Vancouver said on Tuesday.
A Twitter post by Canada's BC Wildfire Service about firefighters responding to several lightening-caused fires.
Photo: BC Wildfire Service/Twitter

Zoom out: 23 large fires were burning in Idaho, 22 in Montana, 15 in Washington and seven in Oregon, per the NIFC data.

  • Oklahoma has three large fires and California one — the monster Mosquito Fire that's been active for 41 days, but which is now 95% contained.

Context: Scientific research shows climate change is a key factor in wildfire risk.

What we're watching: Temperatures "will cool over the Pacific Northwest late this week as a cold front begins to move southeast across the region," the NWS said in a forecast update on Tuesday night.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper