Wildfire near Crystal Mountain more than doubles in size, forces Mount Rainier closures

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.

A wildfire threatening Crystal Mountain Resort has more than doubled in size and forced closures at Mount Rainier National Park.

The Norse Peak Fire grew from roughly 19,000 acres Tuesday to more than 44,000 by noon Wednesday. It remains 8 percent contained.

Thick smoke clogged the area, sometimes making it difficult for firefighters to even spot flames. Helicopters stand ready to drop water on the wildfire once the smoke clears enough for pilots to navigate.

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the county, which will allow resources to be used “without regard to time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law,” according to the proclamation.

Flames moved down the slope toward Silver Skies at the resort, where fire crews stood waiting with hoses.

“It’s going to be another long night,” resort spokeswoman Tiana Anderson wrote on Crystal Mountain’s Facebook page. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

A level 3 evacuation — the highest alert — expanded to include Crystal, Gold Hills, Pick Handle Basin, Silver Springs Campground, Silver Creek, Deep Creek, Joke Creek and Alta.

Sprinklers were set up in those areas to assist with battling the fire, which has not burned any of the 350 or so structures in the evacuation zone.

The blaze is burning outside Mount Rainier National Park, which closed the northeast portion of the park Tuesday due to “unpredictable fire behavior.”

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

Sunrise Road is closed from state Route 410 to the junction near White River and Sunrise. SR 410 to Cayuse Pass and state Route 123 inside the park are still open.

All backcountry trails on the east side of the park are closed, from Frozen Lake to Panhandle Gap. All trails along SR 410 and SR 123 north of the Stevens Canyon entrance are also closed.

Hikers are being contacted by rangers when possible and told to immediately leave the area. Visitors at the White River Campground have been told to have their stuff packed and ready to go pending a level 2 evacuation.

Steffen Rausch, a German who came to the United States to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, told KIRO-TV the fire and resulting closures are “really sad.”

“Because if you are going to do PCT, you want to do as much of the PCT as you can,” he said.

Rausch hiked from the Mexico border to Washington and is one of many being diverted off the trail.

The Norse Peak Fire has forced the closure of the PCT from Chinook Pass to Government Meadow, which means thru-hikers must find a two-hour ride to Snoqualmie Pass to regain the trail.

Mount Rainier advised anyone planning to pick up a hiker from the area to call 360-569-6510.

Crystal Mountain Boulevard also remains closed.

Weather seemed to be cooperating a bit more with firefighting efforts on Wednesday, with winds that once blew up to 40 mph dying down to under 10 mph.

Temperatures will rise back into the low 80s and it’s still dry, but fire officials have hope.

“There’s a cool front coming through,” Joe Zwierrzchowski, a member of the fire command team, told KOMO-TV. “We’re going to see lower temperatures and possibly higher humidity which could help reduce the spread of the fire and help firefighting efforts.”

Crews from neighboring communities like Buckley, Enumclaw and Carbonado responded, bumping the number of firefighters on the wildfire to 341.

Staff writer Kenny Ocker contributed to this report.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653