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Sourdough fire could burn all summer as firefighters defend town, power plant

Jun 23, 2023

BELLINGHAM — A lightning-sparked wildfire burning in the North Cascades National Park continues to grow slowly in dense forest on steep mountain slopes, and it could burn through the summer, fire officials said.

Firefighters attacking the Sourdough fire above the Whatcom County enclave of Diablo are digging in for a “long-duration fire” and preparing to protect the Seattle City Light power station and the homes where its workers live, as well as the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center, federal officials said Thursday.

“They’ve already set up pumps and made some hose lays. We’re doing a bunch of prep work just in case,” said Pete Irvine, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center’s southern “Gray Team” assigned to fight the fire.

No evacuations have been ordered, but the learning center is planning to move nonessential personnel away, Irvine told The Bellingham Herald.

Now at 38 acres without containment, firefighters are using helicopters and sometimes fixed-wing aircraft to make water drops and “keep the head of the fire in check” and prevent uphill spread to the north, Irvine said.

Nearly 150 people are assigned to the incident and more are on the way, he said.

Elite “hotshot” firefighters have withdrawn from fighting the fire on the ground because of falling rocks and burning debris as the fire advances slowly downhill.

“That a real steep slope. The rocks and trees and a lot of things are being held in place by vegetation. When the fire burns, it loosens that vegetation,” Irvine said.

Flames came close to the Diablo Dam Road overnight Wednesday, but so far no buildings have burned and no injuries were reported.

“A couple fingers (of the fire) have reached the Diablo Dam Road, which is closed,” he said.

This weekend is critical to firefighting efforts, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s online update.

“Fire is anticipated to back towards Diablo Lake and Gorge Lake, in between Sourdough and Stetattle Creeks. Areas of more continuous fuels exist to the west with runs expected if fire enters this area,” the online report said.

“The next three days will depend on success of continued air operations providing bucket drops and potential moisture and atmospheric changes this weekend.

But with continued warm temperatures, extremely low humidity and fire burning in dense, dry timber, the fire could possibly last until the fall rains come.

“It’s fair to say that the fire team expects this to become a long-duration fire,” Irvine said.