The Norse Peak Fire as seen from the Cougar Valley trail head. Courtesy photo

Weekend weather helped fight pair of mountain fires

Wildfires in the mountains above Enumclaw have remained the talk of the town.

That’s what happens when skies turn gray, highways close, folks are forced to abandon their homes and the Enumclaw Expo Center is turned into a tent city for first responders.

The past weekend’s cooler, sometimes drizzly weather brought welcome relief for wildland firefighters who were struggling to control the Norse Peak and Sawmill Creek fires. Both are near state Route 410 not all that many miles from Enumclaw; they continued to burn early this week, but fire crews had made progress in key areas.

The Norse Peak blaze, as of Monday morning, had consumed nearly 50,000 acres of rugged wilderness. According to government websites, there were 600 firefighters involved. Friday afternoon, efforts to control the fire were turned over to a response team from California; they replaced a crew from Florida that was heading home to help with hurricane relief.

By Monday, the Norse Peak Fire had been split into two zones to help with the management of resources. The dividing line is the Pacific Crest Trail, which also serves as the line between Pierce and Yakima counties.

The lightning-caused fire originated on the eastern flank of the Cascades, but spread uphill and crested the mountain peaks. Flames crept too close for comfort, prompting a Level 3 evacuation of Crystal Mountain Resort, nearby campgrounds and homes in the immediate area.

As of Monday morning, the Norse Peak fire was listed as 12 percent contained. The primary focus by firefighters was to keep things under control along SR 410 while protecting structures in the area. A Sunday updated noted “the fire continued slowly creeping toward the structures” in the Crystal Mountain, Gold Hill and Silver Springs areas.

The Sawmill Creek Fire, as of Sunday, had spread to almost 850 acres. The fire, which started Sept. 4 northeast of Greenwater, was being fought by 360 firefighters, 20 fire engines and three dozers. Sunday’s report showed there had been no injuries and no structures had been burned.

On Monday, fire containment was listed as “zero,” although the weekend news was heartening. Light rain, lower temperatures and higher humidity allowed crews to make headway.

A Southern California team had arrived to take over the firefighting effort Saturday morning.

In Enumclaw, the Department of Natural Resources used the Enumclaw Expo Center as a staging area. Scott Gray, director of the Expo Center, said there were 100 firefighters initially on site, but the number was expected to increase to 500 during the weekend. Fire crews are an experienced bunch, he said, noting that restrooms, shower facilities and dining accommodations were delivered to the site.