The fire in southwest Washington that’s choking the Portland area with smoke right now may have been started by a foursome playing with fireworks during unseasonably hot, dry weather, according to the Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office.
The marshal is looking for a white- or light-colored Subaru and two men and two women “connected with this vehicle” who were shooting off “some kind of pyrotechnic” in the area on Oct. 9, the day the blaze started, said assistant fire marshal Curtis Eavenson.
Cell phone video obtained by the marshal shows the vehicle parked in the woods, the back hatch open. Audio reveals a loud bang. The camera pans left to a cloud of smoke rising from the trees. The marshal asks the public to review the video and a photo. They were shot around 3:30 pm on a ridge near where the Nakia Creek fire is burning on Larch Mountain, Wash., the marshal said.
“Those are the people we want to talk to,” Eavenson said.
The Nakia Creek fire has burned 1,800 acres about nine miles northeast of Camas. The late-season blaze comes amid a record-breaking October heat wave in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures at Portland International Airport have risen into the 80s a dozen times this month, according to meteorologist Jeff Forgeron at KPTV.
Air quality in the Portland is among the worst in the nation, along with Seattle, because smoke from the Nakia Creek fire is getting trapped between the Coast Range and the Cascades by an overnight temperature inversion, Forgeron said on Twitter.
Normally wet and rainy by now, the Pacific Northwest is California-dry, according to the National Weather Service. No measurable rain fell at any of the agency’s inland monitoring stations in the first 17 days of October, something that has happened only once since 1940 (in 1987). Temperatures at PDX averaged 66.7 degrees during that time, “a stunning 4.3 degrees warmer than the prior warmest Oct 1-17,” the National Weather Service said.
The cause of all the heat is a stubborn high-pressure ridge parked over the Northwest that is blocking storms that would otherwise be arriving from the Pacific at this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. The ridge has been a feature of Northwest weather recently. It lasted so long in 2013 that it got a name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Dr. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, coined the term on his California weather blog and cited it as the cause of California’s extraordinary drought that year.
Relief is on the way this weekend, when the ridge is expected to relent.
“A massive shift in our weather pattern will begin Thursday as the mean upper ridge position finally retrogrades westward, well into the Pacific,” the National Weather Service said. Then, a massive cold front will arrive from the Gulf of Alaska, soaking the Northwest and driving temperatures to more seasonal levels. The high Saturday is supposed to be 58.
The Clark County Fire Marshal can be reached at 564.397.3320 and at Curtis.firstname.lastname@example.org.