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Wildfire closes US Highway 12; Weekend could see smoke clearing

Wildfire closes US Highway 12; Weekend could see smoke clearing

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A new wildfire near White Pass has closed US Highway 12 east of Packwood, and state officials Monday extended an air pollution advisory for the area as heavy smoke is predicted to last at least until the weekend.

Highway 12 was closed in both directions Tuesday due to the wildfire, state transportation officials said. Eastbound, it was blocked off at milepost 138 near the road’s junction with State Route 123. Westbound, it was blocked off at milepost 183 near Oak Creek.

According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, the 60-acre “Cold Creek” wildfire is located just west of Rimrock Lake, about 90 miles northeast of Longview. It started Monday, and its cause remained unknown Tuesday, according to the listing.

“Drivers need to take alternate routes because a reopening time is unknown at this time due to the nature of the incident,” the Washington Department of Transportation said.

A slight drizzle of rain brought marginal improvement to smoke conditions along the coast, but didn’t otherwise improve conditions much across Washington State, the Washington Department of Ecology said Tuesday.

“Expect that status quo to continue,” Ecology said Tuesday. “Not pinning too much hope on the weather system and slight rain expected tonight either. Substantial clearing will have to wait until the Friday-Saturday timeframe.”

The Longview School District said it would again close all facilities Wednesday due to poor air quality, according to Superintendent Dan Zorn. Meal distribution will continue as normal.

The Kelso School District will operate in full remote mode for staff and students Wednesday. Meal distribution will be available Wednesday at the normal distribution sites.

Ongoing hazardous levels of fine particulate matter — the kind kicked up by wildfires and dumped all over the Pacific Northwest in the last week — mean that the Southwest Clean Air Agency is extending its air pollution advisory through Thursday for Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties.

The Air Quality Index rates air quality based on labels of “good” (0 to 50), “moderate” (51 to 100), “unhealthy for sensitive groups” (101-150), “unhealthy” (151-200), and “very unhealthy” (201 to 300). Any reading above 300 is “hazardous.”

In Longview, air quality has hovered around a 300 reading since Saturday. It peaked at nearly 400 on Sunday afternoon and hovered around 300 into Tuesday afternoon.

To stay safe, people living in areas affected by the smoke should:

  • Stay indoors when possible, keep windows closed and use an indoor air filter if available
  • Avoid driving if possible, and set the AC to recirculate air from the car rather than pulling air from outside
  • Limit physical activity outdoors, such as exercise, sports or physical labor

Meanwhile, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office has recorded an increase in fireworks calls over the last week compared to the same time last year.

CCSO had 10 fireworks complaints and 11 illegal discharge complaints in the last seven days, Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill said. In at least one of those complaints, the reporting party mistook recreational target shooting for fireworks. The burn ban does not prohibit recreational shooting on private property.

For the same week in 2019, the Sheriff’s Office only took one fireworks complaint and nine illegal discharge complaints.

“I suspect the increase in fireworks calls is mainly due to increased vigilance due to the high fire danger,” Brightbill said. “Fireworks are not legal at this time of year, regardless of the burn ban.”

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