Fire now ‘less active’ around Crystal Mountain but thick smoke and flames remain

Protecting Crystal Mountain from the Norse Peak fire

Firefighters sprinkle water on buildings in case wildfire reaches the structures.
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Firefighters sprinkle water on buildings in case wildfire reaches the structures.

Smoke and flames continue to choke Crystal Mountain Resort, but the fire on Tuesday no longer appeared to be making a beeline for buildings.

“The fire has become less active but fire crews are still monitoring it very closely,” said resort spokeswoman Tiana Anderson.

Once the thick smoke cleared, the U.S. Forest Service said it would use helicopters to drop water on the massive Norse Peak Fire that has burned more than 19,000 acres, forced evacuations and closed trails in the area.

A level 3 evacuation - the highest alert - remains in place, which means no staff, hotel guests or residents were allowed to stay in the area.

Firefighters left Crystal Mountain about 10:30 p.m. Monday for fear that the road would be cut off by quick-moving flames. They returned early and hunkered down to keep flames from reaching buildings and ski lifts. Sprinklers were placed in the Gold Hills community, which is under evacuation along with Pick Handle Basin.

More than 330 firefighters are working the fire, which started Aug. 11 after a lightning strike.

The fire is 8 percent contained.

Crystal originally closed Monday due to poor air quality, but by nightfall, the fire was close enough to prompt an evacuation.

“It came roaring over the top there pretty fast and then down the far side of the ridge really fast,” John Kircher, who owns Crystal Mountain Resort, told KOMO. “I was surprised. Everybody was.”

Crystal Mountain Boulevard and state Route 410 are closed between mile posts 66 and 69. It’s unclear when the roads will reopen.

The Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Chinook Pass north to Snoqualmie Pass.

Greenwater Community Center is acting as a temporary shelter for those who have been evacuated.

A stream of thankful residents dropped off food, water and baked goods to volunteer firefighters Tuesday.

Air quality in Pierce County was listed as moderate Tuesday, according to Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Communities closer to the Cascades have air quality ranging from unhealthy to very unhealthy. Officials urged people to take precautions until the air improves, which is expected to happen Thursday.

Weather isn’t exactly helping firefighters control the blaze.

Winds gusting up to 40 mph were recorded at Crystal on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, which is causing more smoke and ash to blow into the Tacoma area.

Tuesday is also expected to bring record-breaking heat with highs in the upper 90s.

It never dropped below 71 degrees overnight, making it only one of two days with a low of 70 or higher.

Wildfires have been prompting evacuations and closures around the state in the last week. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Saturday in all of Washington’s counties because of the wildfires.

One major blaze, the Jolly Mountain Fire in Kittitas County, is threatening thousands of homes and businesses.

Inslee’s declaration allows the Washington National Guard to use its resources to help fight fires and directs state agencies to “do everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions,” according to a state news release.

Washington isn’t the only state overwhelmed by wildfires.

A federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, the National Interagency Fire Center, said 80 large fires are burning on 2,200 square miles in nine Western states, including Oregon, California and Idaho.

The Department of Defense on Tuesday ordered 200 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to spend four days training to help battle 14 fires scorching the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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