Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wind-driven smoke and growth of the Washington Fire

Washington Fire near Markleeville, Alpine County, California
Washington Fire: a cloud of thick smoke seen from above Red Lake near Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada
On Sunday, June 21, 2015, I was heading with friends toward Carson Pass. We were wondering, if this was the right day for a Pacific-Crest-Trail hike to Showers Lake, since strong winds blew over the Sierra. While driving south from Minden, Nevada, toward California, we saw a train of smoke moving eastward from the Markleeville area (Alpine County) toward the Pine Nut Mountains: the Washington Fire, as we later found out. An electronic highway sign announced that California State Highway 4 to Ebbett's Pass—another Pacific Crest Trail access location—was closed.

We continued on Highway 88 to Carson Pass and had a pleasant hike to Showers Lake via Meiss Meadows. The dry air granted crisp views of the volcanic rock formations and lava domes within the Carson Pass area. Driving home, we saw the further evolving Washington Fire by scanning the eastern mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada from Highway 88 above Red Lake. The thick red-gray smoke could have been taken as the result of an volcanic eruption. But we already knew from emergency alerts on the radio that this was a blaze.

It was ignited by a lightning strike and stoked by strong erratic winds. By Tuesday, the fire was contained by less than 10 percent. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal it has increased to 16,500 acres:  Residential areas, historic cabins and campgrounds near Markleeville as well as local sight-seeing landmarks are currently off limits:

Highway 89 over Monitor Pass remain closed at U.S. 395. California Highway 4 is closed, and Turtle Rock and Indian Creek campgrounds are shut down. All visitors and campers from Wolfcreek to the top of Ebbitts Pass [? new spelling of Ebbett's Pass or Ebbetts Pass] have been evacuated. Markleeville remained on standby for possible evacuation.

I am not able to figure out why this fire is called Washington Fire. The little town of Washington, California, is located in Nevada County.  So, what is the little something in Alpine County after which this fire has been named? Or am I on the wrong track?

Keywords: wildfire, fire growth, severe drought conditions, evacuation, fire nomenclature.

Staff and wire reports: Little containment as fire chars 16,500 acres. Reno Gazette Journal, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, pages 1A and 5A.

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