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By Alan Smith, Meteorologist Posted 10 months ago August 22, 2023

Pacific Northwest & Western Canada Wildfire Update

Numerous wildfires took off across the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada during the week of August 13th-20th as an intense heat wave took hold across the region. Strong winds late in the week combined with hot and dry conditions resulted in rapidly spreading fires that have caused significant damage in populated areas.

Most areas being impacted by major fires have seen improving conditions early this week (August 21st-22nd) in terms of reduced fire behavior thanks to a cooler airmass with higher relative humidity.

Moisture from former Hurricane Hilary has also helped. This is especially true in Idaho and Western Montana where widespread significant rain has fallen. 

Let's check in with some of the larger and more impactful wildfires ongoing as of August 22nd.

Brush Creek East Fire

  • Location: British Columbia (near Sun Peaks Ski Resort)
  • Acres Burned: 101,410
  • Cause: Lightning

This large fire complex has severely impacted communities along the shores of Shushwap Lake, just east of Sun Peaks. Active hot spots are still being detected as of Tuesday, August 22nd though some relief is expected over the next few days due to cooler temperatures along with rain showers.

McDougall Creek Fire

  • Location: Kelowna, British Columbia
  • Acres Burned: 29,653
  • Cause: Unknown

This fire has been burning within the Kelowna metro area in South Central BC after starting last Wednesday (August 16) and has caused significant damage. The arrival of a cooler and wetter airmass will help with firefighting efforts over the next few days, though rainfall will be showery in nature and this area may only see light amounts. 

Crater Creek Fire

  • Location: British Columbia (Okanagan region near Washington border)
  • Acres Burned: 108,730
  • Cause: Lightning

This large fire is burning in mostly rural terrain though some communities are under evacuation orders. This fire has contributed to poor air quality across the Northwest. Some rain is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday along with cooler temperatures, though this area is right on the edge of where heavier rain is forecasted.

Gray Fire

  • Location: Just southwest of Spokane, Washington
  • Acres Burned: 10,014
  • Cause: Human
  • Containment: 25%

This fire started on Friday and quickly spread as communities were forced to evacuate on short notice. Sadly, two fatalities have been reported with this fire. The fire is burning on the outskirts of the Spokane metro area. Fortunately, beneficial rain has been falling across this area on Tuesday, which will help.

Another fire is also burning north of Spokane near Mt. Spokane Ski Area. The Oregon Fire has also burned over 10,000 acres, with improvement also expected this week thanks to beneficial rainfall.

Bedrock and Lookout Fires

  • Location: Oregon Cascades between Eugene and Bend
  • Acres Burned: 30,554 (Bedrock) / 12,188 (Lookout)
  • Cause: Unknown (Bedrock) / Natural (Lookout)
  • Containment: 35% (Bedrock) / 5% (Lookout)

The Bedrock Fire has been active since July 22nd while the Lookout Fire started a couple of weeks later on August 5th. These fires have not been spreading at rapid rates or threatening highly populated areas compared to some of the fires in Washington and BC. However, these fires have been contributing to poor air quality across Bend and Central Oregon for quite some time now.

Significant rainfall from Hilary fell just east of these fires, but cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity are helping to reduce fire behavior this week.

Smith River Complex Fire

  • Location: Northwest California (just south of the Oregon border)
  • Acres Burned: 40,031
  • Cause: Unknown / Suspected Lightning
  • Containment: 0%

This complex of fires began on August 15th during last week's heatwave and is burning in mostly rural terrain, though evacuation orders are in place across numerous communities. Significant lightning activity was noted in the area when these fires began and is suspected but not confirmed to be a cause.

Moisture from Hilary just missed this area to the east. However, cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity should help with firefighting efforts over the next few days (August 22nd to 24th).

Rain For Some on Tuesday and Wednesday:

The good news is that cooler and wetter conditions will lead to reduced fire behavior across most of the Northwest during the middle part of this week.

A trough of low pressure moving into Washington and British Columbia is a contributing factor, while moisture from the remants of Hilary is being entrained into the flow, resulting in more widespread showers and soaking rains across Eastern BC, Eastern Washington, and Eastern Oregon.

Drier conditions are expected further west across Western Oregon and Northwest California, but higher relative humidities will still help.

On Friday and Saturday, a little bit of monsoonal moisture will work its way into the Interior Northwest, but showers and thunderstorms will be more spotty in nature with less rainfall overall.

Smoke Outlook:

Significant smoke and poor air quality remain across portions of BC, Washington, Oregon, and Northern Idaho on Tuesday. Westerly onshore winds are pushing this smoke further east compared to prior days. Overall, the severity of smoke is expected to be lower than recent days, but it will still cause poor air quality in areas.

On Wednesday, a further reduction in smoke is expected as the cooler/wetter airmass takes hold. However, the plume of (lighter) smoke will shift further east into Montana. Other than this one SW to NE-oriented smoke plume, smoke activity will largely be confined to areas closer to the fires themselves. 

Confidence is low in the smoke pattern moving forward, as it will largely depend on how the fires respond to the cooler/wetter pattern, and how they respond to an expected hotter and drier pattern this weekend.

More smoke maps:

Medium Range Outlook:

While this week's weather pattern will offer some relief, the bad news is that hotter and drier conditions will return this weekend and early next week.

Hotter-than-average temperatures are expected across the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada from Saturday (Aug 26) through Monday (Aug 28), while Northern California should be a little cooler.

Here are the projected departure from average temperatures for Sunday:

Some of the ongoing fires may wake back up during this hotter and drier pattern, especially if winds pick up which is a possibility early next week (around August 28th) as a trough of low pressure approaches the Northwest Coast.

This trough is actually expected to bring some welcome rain to parts of Washington and British Columbia around the middle of next week (August 29th-31st, roughly) along with cooler temperatures. So following the brief hot spell, we should see another stretch of more favorable conditions.

The outlook heading into early September is uncertain in terms of rainfall potential, but longer-range models are projecting a return to above-average temperatures.

Learn More → Active Fires Map

Learn More → Smoke and Air Quality Maps

Alan Smith, Meteorologist

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About The Author

Alan Smith

Meteorologist

Alan Smith received a B.S. in Meteorology from Metropolitan State University of Denver and has been working in the private sector since 2013. When he’s not watching the weather from the office, Alan loves to spend time outdoors skiing, hiking, and mountain biking, and of course keeping an eye on the sky for weather changes while recreating.

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