|Smoke from the Washington Fire obscures the sun, as seen from Topaz Lake Sunday afternoon
It’s always interesting living in the Eastern Sierra, perhaps never more so than when you wake up one morning and discover that a wildfire is heading your general direction. That was the situation yesterday as the Washington fire burned near Ebbetts Pass and Silver Peak in California’s Sierra Nevada. The fire started Friday, and by Sunday morning it had grown to 350 acres. But the forecast for Sunday was dry and windy, so it had been identified as being a “red flag” day with the highest possible fire danger.
Washington Fire near Silver Peak
Heading up on Highway 89 over Monitor Pass, the fire could be seen near Silver Peak, still fairly well localized, but with growing winds sending the smoke towards the Double Springs neighborhood and Simee Dimeh Summit. Highway 4 was closed from Ebbetts Pass to its intersection with Highway 89 over Monitor Pass.
Washington Fire from Monitor Pass
Depending upon the wind direction, the fire could head towards the town of Markleeville in Alpine County, California, over Monitor Pass towards Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border, or towards neighborhoods in Nevada along Highway 395 between the two. The most immediate concern was the town of Markleeville if the fire spread north, but with trees dry from drought and two days of high winds in the forecast, the fire could easily jump the East Carson River and head into Nevada.
Washington Fire from Topaz Lake
Early in the morning the smoke was a gray color and not too dense, although it spread over the landscape for many miles. The winds grew quickly though, fanning and spreading the flames, and the smoke spread higher and became more thick. By mid-afternoon the wind had shifted to center the smoke plume between Simee Dimeh and Topaz Lake, and the color had turned more orange-brown. The light filtering through the smoke turned the landscape orange. Winds were gusting over 45 MPH, and the fire was reported as spreading quickly through 6500 acres, jumping forward via wind-carried embers. Highway 89 over Monitor Pass had closed, residents south of Markleeville had been evacuated, and residents in town were put on notice.
Washington Fire from the north
By early evening it seemed like a good idea to get an update on the fire’s location and direction, but online updates can be sparse and vague. With the high vantage points around Monitor Pass closed, the next best option would be to see what could be seen from the north/northeast.
Leviathan Mine Road departs Highway 395 at Simee Dimeh Summit and heads to Highway 89 on the west side of Monitor Pass, but it crossed directly under the dense, now tobacco-brown smoke. But the road entered into the smoke that showed the fire’s path in the wind. Without better information on the fire’s location and speed, it would not be wise to enter the area. I captured some photos and video clips from a safe distance north of the smoke, then returned to Highway 395. Heading south from Simee Dimeh to Topaz Lake, the smoke had darkened to dark brown. It was so dark, vehicles had their headlights on.
The wind died down in the evening, so the spread of the fire slowed and the smoke less dense. As of Monday morning, the acreage of the fire hasn’t been updated since yesterday afternoon, but the fire has been reported in Bagley Valley south of Highway 89 and Heenan Lake, so the fire has crossed the East Carson River. It has also been reported north of Highway 89, so it has also crossed the only paved roads between the original fire location and the neighborhoods along Highway 395. With another day of wind gusts up to 40 MPH in the forecast, we just have to hope for a wind direction which will not bring the fire too close to homes before the wind subsides and the firefighters can work on the advancing edges. The +Pacific Crest Trail Association published this map earlier today showing the extent of the fire:
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