Soaring Mercury And Growing Wildfires Heat Up The Pacific Northwest


Smoke rises from the area of a wildfire near Entiat, Wash., Friday, July 11, 2014. Several hundred firefighters worked Friday to contain the fire that has burned grass and brush across nearly 30 square miles in central Washington.

Very few people planning a trip to Pacific Northwest put sunglasses, sunscreen and a floppy hat first on their packing list. Rain boots and a jacket are much more likely candidates. But this week, Portland is forecast to see temperatures in the mid-90s and elsewhere in the region, temperature records are falling as the mercury soars.

While heatwaves are dangerous everywhere, they can be especially deadly in areas like Portland, Seattle and Vancouver where people have little experience coping with the temperatures and air conditioners are far from commonplace.

Local news station KATU reported that hardware stores across the Portland area were running out of air conditioners and even fans over the weekend.

“We normally stock six styles of air conditioners and we are out of all them,” Sarah Farmer, an employee at an Ace Hardware in Portland, told the station.

For the first time in five years, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat watch for the Seattle metro area over the weekend as temperatures are expected to be in the 90s through Wednesday. The city usually sees temperatures around 75°F this time of year.

In Washington, the abnormal weather is helping fuel seven major wildfires that are keeping over 1,000 firefighters on the front lines. The largest of the blazes, the Mills Canyon fire in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has burned through 34 square miles and forced the evacuation of 200 homes since it started smoking on July 8.

Bob Tobin, a National Weather Service meteorologist told the LA Times, that the fire season in the region had arrived several weeks earlier thanks to the unseasonably warm weather.

The heatwave is even worse to the north.

Over the weekend, Environment Canada reported record high temperatures in four communities in British Columbia, Lytton, Pemberton, Lillooet and Kamloops. Temperatures reached as high as 105°F in these communities and more records are expected to be broken in the week to come. The average temperature in the area this time of year is just 86°F.

In metro Vancouver, the hot temperatures were accompanied by air quality alerts as high levels of ground-level pollutants made strenuous outdoor activities dangerous for the very young, elderly and anyone with existing respiratory problems such as asthma. The heat and dry conditions are expected to grow four major existing wildfires in B.C. and possibly spark many more. In all, 53 fires are currently ablaze in the province.

“The danger rating in the province on the latest map shows a lot of red (for extreme risk rating), B.C. Wildfire Management Branch spokeswoman Navi Saini told the Vancouver Sun. “And it’s only expected to increase from here on in. We don’t anticipate a break in the weather for at least the next seven to 10 days.”

One of the biggest blazes expected to grow is the 3,800-hectare Red Deer Creek fire near the Alberta border. Over 200 oil and gas workers have already been evacuated from camps servicing the Montney natural gas area as the fire closes in.