The week has gone from hot to hotter, and it’s not over yet.
As temperatures soar into the mid-90s today and Friday, officials are warning of heightened fire danger and possible heat exhaustion.
An excessive heat watch is in effect through Friday evening, and forecasters say these likely will be the hottest days of the year. Today’s high is forecast to be 94 degrees. Friday is expected to peak at 95. The record for today’s high is 98; Friday’s is 96.
“I’ve heard no one complaining this year about there not being a summer,” National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Haner said Wednesday.
The Weather Service issued a warning Wednesday of heightened fire danger as heat, low humidity and winds combined in Pierce County. The “Red Flag” warning was in effect Wednesday, and had not been issued in this region for three years. The last time was in 2009 and was prompted by lightning.
The warning extended throughout the Interstate 5 corridor, including Pierce, King, Thurston and Lewis counties. It also affected the Kitsap Peninsula and Hood Canal.
Haner said the conditions do not usually simultaneously strike this area.
“This combination comes together maybe once every five years,” he said.
Winds gusted near 20 miles per hour and humidity dropped about 10 percent to as low as 25 percent.
Local fire agencies are prepared for brush fires in Pierce County, and have moved resources around to compensate for crews being sent to help battle the Taylor Bridge wildfire near Cle Elum.
Sixteen fire personnel from six local agencies have joined the 800 or so firefighters battling the growing blaze, which scorched 28,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 900 people.
Meanwhile, a brush fire not far from Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington had burned across about 5,000 acres, nearly eight square miles, near Elmer City.
A handful of brush fires have ignited in Pierce County this week, and fire officials say they can be harder to contain in hot weather because grass and shrubs are drier than usual since it hasn’t rained in 27 days. Tacoma Fire had responded to at least 13 brush fires Monday and Tuesday.
“The deal about Tacoma and Western Washington is that we have so much vegetation,” Battalion Chief Ben Flesher said. “When it does dry out, it’s a significant amount of fuel ready to go, and this is about as dry as it gets here. Just about anything will set off grass right now.”
Thunderstorms could hit the region Saturday. If they don’t, South Puget Sound could be looking at one of the longest dry spells since the Weather Service began keeping records in 1948.
The longest stretch was 51 days in 1951. Though we are unlikely to rival that record, Haner said it’s possible that – absent rain this weekend – we could sneak into the fifth longest dry spell. That record is 39 days, ending on Aug. 19, 1997.
“If we scrape past that one with no precipitation, we may be on the hunt for reaching the top five,” he said.
The last measurable rain to hit the Tacoma-Seattle area was July 20, when 0.6 of an inch fell.
Hot weather also is increasing smog in Pierce and King counties. The pollution could reach unhealthy levels, especially in communities in the Cascade foothills, and might remain elevated through Saturday, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
Pollution generated by vehicle traffic and activities in the urban areas of Tacoma, Seattle and Everett accumulates as it moves to outlying suburban and areas, according to the agency.
Temperatures are expected to dip back into the 70s and 80s this weekend.
Staff writers Alexis Krell and Rob Carson contributed to this report.
Tips for staying safe from the heat
• Rest frequently in cool places if working outside.
• Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing.
• Know the signs of heat stroke and exhaustion.
• Drink plenty of water, even when not thirsty.
• Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.
• Be aware of upcoming temperature changes and updates.
• Don’t leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles.
• Find places to escape the heat, such as malls or libraries.
• Make sure animals have water and shade.
• Eat small meals and more often than usual.
• Avoid drastic temperature changes.
• Stay inside and avoid extreme exercise at the hottest part of the day.
Sources: National Weather Service, American Red Cross
Signs of heat exhaustion
Cool, moist, pale, ashen or flushed skin
Signs of heat stroke
High body temperature
Changes in consciousness
Rapid, weak pulse
Rapid, shallow breathing
Source: American Red Cross
Additional information on hot weather personal safety is available at the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department website, www.tpchd.org/news.php?nid=693.
Hot weather fire prevention tips
• Keep grass mowed, including around alleys.
• Make sure compost piles aren’t near fences or anything flammable.
• Stir compost piles to release heat and prevent spontaneous combustion.
• Carefully watch barbecues to prevent sparks.
• Be extra careful with anything flammable when there’s a breeze.
• Use an ashtray when smoking cigarettes.
Source: Tacoma Fire Department, Washington State Patrol
Pierce County residents can go to these locations to avoid the heat:
• County library branches (www.piercecountylibrary.org/branches/branch-listing.htm gives locations and hours of operation.)
• Sprinker Recreation Center, 14824 S. C St., Spanaway/Parkland, 5:30 a.m.- 10 p.m. today and Friday.
• South Hill Mall, 3500 S. Meridian, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Friday.
• Anderson Island Fire Department, 12207 Lake Josephine Blvd., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Friday.
• Fife Community Center 2111 54th Ave. E., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Friday.
• City of Buckley Multi Purpose Center, 811 East Main, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. today and Friday.
• Buckley Youth Activity Center, 251 River Ave. S., noon-7:30 p.m. today; noon-9:30 p.m. Friday.
• Mid County Community Center, 10205 44th Ave. E. in Tacoma, 8:30 a.m.- 8 p.m. today, closed Friday.
• Steilacoom Community Center, 2301 Worthington St., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. today; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday.
• Bonney Lake Senior Center, 19304 Bonney Lake Blvd., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Friday.
• Chapel Hill Church, 7700 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. today; closed Friday.
• DuPont Public Safety Building EOC, 1780 Civic Drive, 1-10 p.m. today through Sunday.
Have a pet?
These locations allow people and their domesticated pets to get out of the heat. Pets must be on a leash or in a crate, and owners must provide water if they are in the store for long periods of time.
• All Lowe’s home improvement stores in Pierce County, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
• All PetSmart stores in Pierce County, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
• VCA Animal Hospital, 10324 Pacific Ave. S. in Tacoma, open 24 hours a day.Source: Pierce County Emergency Management