Saturday, July 13, 2024

Pioneer Fire grows to 1,468 acres in rugged Lake Chelan wilderness

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CHELAN — The Pioneer Fire, burning in the remote wilderness along the north shore of Lake Chelan has grown to 1,468 acres, posing significant challenges for firefighters battling the blaze in rugged, inaccessible terrain.

The fire, which started on June 8 approximately 31 miles northwest of Chelan, is burning in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Area in the Chelan Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and on private land. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but authorities suspect it may be due to human factors.

According to Brian Gales, Incident Commander of Northwest Incident Management Team 13, the fire is expected to persist on the landscape for an extended duration due to the large amount of ground fuels and the difficulty in accessing the area. Firefighters are working to maintain constructed handlines, hose lays, and sprinklers to protect structures along the lakeshore between Pioneer Creek and Rex Creek.

Chelan County Emergency Management has raised the evacuation level from Prince Creek north to Cascade Creek to Level 2 (Be Prepared), while a Level 3 (Go Now) evacuation order remains in place for the area around Rex Creek. A closure order is in effect for the Lakeshore Trail from Prince Creek to Moore Point and portions of the Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness for public safety.

Firefighting efforts have been bolstered by the use of aviation resources, with six aircraft currently assigned to the fire. On Wednesday, helicopters dropped 130,000 gallons of water on the fire in support of the 186 firefighters on the ground. More aviation resources are expected, including a drone to aid in reconnaissance.

Weather conditions remain a concern, with warm and dry conditions expected today. A dry cold front is forecast to bring cooler temperatures but low humidity and winds that could reach 25 mph, potentially fueling the fire's spread.

Recreational boaters are asked to maintain space from aircraft utilizing Lake Chelan for water collection, and the public is advised to follow forest closure orders for their safety and the safety of the firefighters.

The Pioneer Fire is the latest in a series of wildfires that have challenged firefighters in Washington state in recent years, as climate change and drought conditions have contributed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the region.

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