PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Crews in Washington continue to battle two fires on either side of Mount St Helens, including the Kalama Fire north of 503 near Yale and Cougar.
On Monday night, fire officials met with residents during ongoing containment efforts.
The Kalama Fire continues to burn in a steep area of around 112 acres in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, but the Forest Service says while the potential for fire growth is still there, recent conditions have worked in their favor. Firefighters say smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire in Oregon actually helped it from rapidly spreading more.
“That basically puts a blanket on us and it alleviates some of the smoke rising so it’s a stable air mass, so now the fire doesn’t want to move up and gain a lot of speed on us,” said David Grubich, a public information officer on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service.
With red flag warnings this past weekend, Grubich says there were a lot of concerns the fire could get worse, especially as dry conditions continue in the northwest.
“If you just look at what’s going on and the trend over the last couple of years, it’s just growing every year. Fire season is growing every year and now we call it a fire season and it’s extending into the fall where it typically doesn’t,” said Grubich. “We’ve had a lot of luck. If you think about the day our fire grew to a hundred acres, that very same day, the Cedar Creek Fire grew another 50,000 acres with the same conditions we have.”
Ronnie Schultz, who resides where the fire is near, says many have stepped up and helped where they can, whether that’s through donations or feeding firefighters.
“It’s a tight-knit community,” said Schultz. “We volunteer, we do anything we can to take care of our valley.”
Schultz’s home was under level one evacuation preps and he says he’s been ready to go if things escalated — while continuing to volunteer — but is thankful they haven’t.
“You start wondering, what can I take, what can’t I take. Pets, loved ones, necessities, pack, go,” said Schultz. “We have great firefighters up here and they’re really knowledgeable and they’ve been letting us know.”
While conditions have remained steady for the Kalama Fire, the potential for change is still there and USFS says listening to your ready-set-go evacuation alerts is a priority.
“When it’s time to go, you need to go. Your life is in danger, your property is in danger, your animals are in danger. That’s why we give you ready, to let you know,” said Grubich, adding that there are efforts residents should take in the meantime to prepare their homes and properties. “Clean those gutters out. Pine needles are mother nature’s perfect fuel. so if you don’t get those pine needles cleared out of your gutters, all it takes is one little fire, one little ember in there, your roof is fully involved and then you’re probably going to lose your structure. If you don’t have enough defensible space around your house for us to work in, it doesn’t give us the ability to get in there and defend it.”
Firefighters are still working on containment lines through hand crews and heavy equipment like dozers. As for the cause of the Kalama Fire, USFS says it could be some time before they can reach the origin area and determine what happened.
Crews are also working a second fire in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, northeast of Packwood. The lightning-caused Goat Rocks fire is at about 2,800 acres and 0% containment.