Inslee blames fast-growing wildfires on climate change

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. – Gov. Jay Inslee got a personal briefing Tuesday at the Jolly Mountain Fire burning near Cle Elum.

The fire has been burning out of control for nearly a month – and as of Tuesday, it threatened nearly 1,000 homes in its path.

Inslee spoke with the incident management team Tuesday. The governor said he believes this fire, and the other fires burning in our state, is a direct result of climate change.

But some people living near the evacuations zones were more concerned about firefighters being able to save their homes.

So far the Jolly Mountain Fire has scorched more than 23,000 acres and has been burning out of control since early August.

On Tuesday, air tankers and helicopters could not fly because the thick haze of smoke grounded those resources.

“It just keeps getting worse and worse from year to year,” said Greg Pague from Cle Elum.

Facemasks were free for the taking at Red Cross and local health department locations on Tuesday as smoke from the fire blanketed the region.

Pague gathered a few extra masks for family members, but he says the smoke is the least of his worries.

“The winds can shift and blow the smoke out but that fans the flames and could push it into communities,” he said.

Several neighborhoods remain under Level 3 mandatory evacuation, meaning neighbors need get out and stay out. Many more were under Level 2 evacuation orders, meaning they should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The dry, windy conditions across our state are combining to make a perfect storm for fire growth.

“We need help,” said Judy Bouslaugh of Cle Elum. “We need water; we need planes with fire retardant.”

Some help is coming from both Joint Base Lewis-McChord and state National Guard soldiers joining in this fire fight. The Federal Emergency Management Agency promised federal funds to help pay for the hundreds of firefighters building fire lines in the backcountry.

“There’s a huge stress on entire system right now with all the fires in Washington, Oregon and rest of region,” said Rob Allen with the fire incident management team.

During Inslee's visit, the governor told reporters that the fast moving and intense wildfires growing across the state are proof that climate change is real – and a threat to our state’s natural resources.

“We’re seeing a climate change -- climate change is ravaging our forest,” said Inslee. “The combination of beetle kill, drought and higher temperatures have made our fires, bombs, waiting to go off.”

Firefighters believe they constructed strong lines of protection along fire’s southern edge, but they’re concerned about the western side near Cle Elem Lake due to terrain.

Officials are expecting more extreme fire behavior. A steady wind on Tuesday evening likely would not provide much help in the fire fight.