Seattle broke the record Sunday for the hottest temperature this late in the year, as heat-driven wildfires threatened homes in Southwest Washington and continued to send smoke across the region.
Still, hope remained for a slight cooling overnight.
The official high reached 88 degrees Sunday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, making it the latest day in the calendar year at or above 80 degrees on record, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Michalski said.
The previous record at Sea-Tac, set Oct. 14, 1961, was 80 degrees.
Sunday’s temperature also eclipsed the previous record high temperature for Oct. 16: 72 degrees, set in 2018.
Gusty winds from the east continued in the Cascade foothills and brought wildfire smoke into the Puget Sound region Sunday. Throughout most of the region, air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. Depending on the location, it ranged from unhealthy for everyone to “good,” according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
“The critical fire weather conditions are in place: dry fuels, combined with low relative humidity … along with gusty east winds,” Michalski said. “It drives the rapid growth on the fires we’re seeing.”
The extreme fire conditions stretched into the south Cascades, where authorities expanded an evacuation order Sunday. Clark County officials were warning people near the growing Nakia Creek fire northeast of Camas to evacuate or prepare to leave their homes.
There were 2,900 homes under Level 3 (go now) evacuations as of Sunday evening, and a total of nearly 40,000 homes under some category of evacuation notice, according to Eric Frank, a spokesperson for the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.
As of Sunday evening, the fire had grown to 2,000 acres, according to Trina Contreras, spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources. Washougal and Mount Pleasant school districts announced school closures for Monday.
About 100 people, supported by water-dropping helicopters, were battling the fire Sunday evening. Washington state issued a mobilization order allowing any firefighting agency to dispatch resources to the blaze.
People may track information about the fire on the websites of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources.
Other fires in the region spread over the weekend.
The Loch Katrine fire, just 30 miles east of Seattle on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, grew to more than 2,000 acres Saturday night, the U.S. Forest Service said Sunday. The fire was burning on private forest land in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and was not threatening communities or structures on Sunday. Forest Road 57 and the Sunday Lake Trail No. 1000 were closed near the fire area.
The Loch Katrine fire was first detected Sept. 2 in high alpine territory, but was contained to 4 acres until easterly winds flared up over the weekend, U.S. Forest Service communications manager Christopher Bentley said.
“The combination of several weeks of unusually dry and hot weather, combined with that wind, just made that fire blow up,” Bentley said. “It went from basically nothing to 2,000 acres overnight.”
The 8 Road fire, 4 miles north of Elbe in Pierce County, was estimated at 150 acres as of Sunday afternoon, the state Department of Natural Resources said. Some locations on Scott Turner Road, Beaver Creek Road and 8 Road were under a level 1 evacuation notice, meaning residents should be prepared in case evacuation is necessary.
The state Department of Transportation closed a portion of Highway 2 near Skykomish multiple times on Sunday, so fire crews could assess and remove hazardous trees and use helicopters to “attack hot spots in the area.”
The Bolt Creek fire burning in the area was 41% contained as of Sunday afternoon, according to the incident command team.
The smoke lingering over Western Washington is unusual for this time of year, University of Washington atmospheric chemistry professor Dan Jaffe said.
“We’ve had a very warm summer, and it’s extended into October,” he said. “Normally we’d be getting rain at this time of year, and that would put out fires, but there’s a whole series of fires burning in the Cascades.”
When air quality is unhealthy, short periods outside are OK, Jaffe said, but long-term exposure leads to health risks such as shortness of breath and headaches.
Jaffe recommends residents monitor air quality maps and filter the air in their homes using air purifiers or filtration systems — staying indoors won’t help you if the air quality in your house isn’t good. “Smoke gets into your house and if you don’t do something about it, you’re going to be breathing in smoke,” he said.
Sunday night and into Monday morning, an onshore flow was expected to bring in a marine layer with “relatively cooler, moister air coming from over the Pacific,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dev McMillian said. While Eastern Washington will see more smoke, the cooler, wetter air is expected to decrease the coverage of smoke and McMillian said possibly improve air quality west of the Cascades.
Nonetheless, Monday temperatures are forecast to be above average, in the upper 60s. The region has received less than 10% of normal rainfall since July 4, according to the Weather Service.
The remainder of the week is expected to be dry and warmer than average — with daytime highs around 70 — until a storm front expected to arrive Friday night.
“The warmest temperatures are now behind us,” Michalski said. “Friday is our best chance for rain, and we should see a turn to more fall-like weather at the end of the week.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.