Oct 20, 2022 - News

Why firefighters aren't quickly extinguishing the Bolt Creek Fire

Smoke on a rocky terrain area with lots of trees.

A view of the Bolt Creek Fire on Monday, Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of Bolt Creek Fire Incident Team

A big contributor to poor air quality in the Seattle area in recent weeks has been the Bolt Creek Fire, which continues to burn on the edge of King County near Skykomish.

  • Yet the team fighting the flames says there are several reasons they can't simply go in and extinguish the blaze.

Why it matters: The fire, which has burned since Sept. 10, has periodically choked the region in smoke and closed parts of U.S. Highway 2.

  • On Wednesday afternoon, Seattle's air quality ranked as the worst in the world, according to IQAir's comparison of city air quality and pollution levels. Seattle's air quality continued to be very unhealthy on Thursday.

The latest: The ground around the fire is steep and covered in trees, officials say, making it more likely that burning debris will fall and roll away. That increases the chance that a fire could spread below firefighters and entrap them, Don Ferguson, a spokesperson for the incident management team, wrote in a statement to Axios.

  • There's also a great danger of a firefighter getting struck by a falling tree, Ferguson wrote.
  • On top of that, much of the area where the fire is burning isn't accessible by roads, making it so firefighters can't use fire engines to help, he said.

What they're saying: "The focus is on keeping the fire from spreading beyond containment lines," Ferguson wrote. "...We do not go into the interior of a timber fire on steep ground and [with] heavy fuels to 'put it out.'"

  • "Full extinguishment requires significant precipitation," he added.

By the numbers: As of Wednesday, the Bolt Creek Fire had burned more than 14,000 acres and was 43% contained.

The big picture: State officials say wildfire risk is increasing due to climate change, which is producing more frequent droughts and drier forests that make it easier for fires to spread.

  • Still, when it comes to acres burned, this year’s fire season in Washington has been less destructive than others in the past decade.

What's next: Rain is expected to come Friday and over the weekend, which should help reduce the Bolt Creek Fire as well as others burning in Washington state — or at least put a damper on the smoke.

  • In the meantime, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who leads the state's largest wildland firefighting agency, is asking residents to be patient, while acknowledging the public health toll of the smoky air.
  • "Please know if there were any additional action we could take to lessen this smoke and put fire out sooner, we would have taken it," Franz tweeted late last week.
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