Smoke nearly obscures a hillside near Crystal Mountain Ski Resort on Wednesday. The day before, the Norse Peak wildfire burned rapidly down that slope, threatening the resort. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com
Smoke nearly obscures a hillside near Crystal Mountain Ski Resort on Wednesday. The day before, the Norse Peak wildfire burned rapidly down that slope, threatening the resort. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

Local

Cooler weather could help contain Norse Peak Fire, which is now bigger than Tacoma

By Stacia Glenn

sglenn@thenewstribune.com

September 07, 2017 08:52 AM

UPDATED September 08, 2017 09:42 AM

Crews battling the Norse Peak Fire are hoping cooler weather and a chance of rain might help them get a better handle on the wildfire, which has grown larger than Tacoma.

In just two days, the fire more than doubled in size to 45,433 acres or more than 70 square miles. Tacoma is 62 square miles.

Officials say the fire could be even larger because thick smoke has made it hard for them to properly map the blaze as it inches closer to Crystal Mountain Resort and Mount Rainier National Park.

Additional firefighters have continued to respond, including two hand crews from the Washington National Guard, bringing the total to nearly 400. Attention is shifting to the western edge of the fire to ensure flames don’t creep closer to Greenwater.

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The hope is that the smoke thins out enough to allow helicopters to drop water on the wildfire, something that hasn’t yet been possible.

“What I’d really like to see is some fire retardant or some water be dropped on that and we can just be done with it,” Kim Kircher, co-owner of Crystal Mountain, told KOMO.

That stretch of forest prohibits fire retardant being used, though fire officials said they could request an exemption. However, they believe water would work best on such a dense canopy.

Hand crews have posted up along the 462 Road on the southwest corner of the fire and along state Route 410 on the southeast side, which put them in position to douse a quarter-acre spot fire that popped up Wednesday.

Greenwater firefighters have installed a sprinkler system in the Gold Hills community, which has been evacuated, to help keep flames out.

“Although there is still no immediate threat to Greenwater, the behavior of this fire to date has been so extreme that it would be foolish not to prepare for the possibility,” Crystal Mountain Fire Chief Paul Sowers said.

A 20-member hand crew monitoring the Silver Springs cabin area is armed with protective wrap for homes and is pumping water from the creek to help with sprinklers.

Winds changed direction Wednesday, forcing the massive wildfire to burn back on itself rather than progress toward Goat Creek.

“The weather forecast looks hopeful for aerial operations in the next day or two, but clearer/less smoky weather also means fire activity may increase as smoky conditions suppress that behavior somewhat,” Greenwater fire officials wrote on their Facebook page.

An incident command team from Florida is handing over management of the wildfire Friday and heading to help with hurricanes in their home state.

“This is a crazy summer with all the fire activity and Hurricane Harvey,” incident commander Rick Doland said.

Officials said resources are maxed out nationally and they’re doing the best they can with what they have.

Norse Peak Fire remains 8 percent contained.

Evacuations remain in place for Crystal, Gold Hills, Pick Handle Basin, Silver Creek, Silver Springs Campground, Deep Creek, Alta and Joke Creek.

The White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is closed, along with the Sunrise area.

Trails on the east side of the park from Frozen Lake to Panhandle Gap, along with those along Route 410 and state Route 123 north of the Stevens Canyon entrance.

The Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Chinook Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, creating a problem for hikers trying to pass through the area.

Smoke from the fire, and others across the West, continues to create air quality problems in Washington.

Air quality is still listed as moderate in Tacoma as of Thursday.

“The fires continue to burn and it will take weeks if not months of ongoing efforts to fight and monitor them,” said Crystal Mountain Resort spokeswoman Tiana Anderson, who said firefighters have been overwhelmed by residents bringing baked goods, meals and water to them.

She started a fundraising page to benefit Crystal Mountain and Greenwater firefighters that raised more than $3,300 in the first two hours. Donations can be made here.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653