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Norse Peak Fire threatens Crystal Mountain Resort as fire grows to nearly 20,000 acres

Level 3, mandatory evacuations are underway near the Norse Peak Fire, just north of Mount Rainier. Nearby Crystal Mountain Resort has shut down because of the heavy smoke and poor visibility. (Photo: Crystal Mountain Resort)

NEAR ENUMCLAW, Wash. - Level 3, mandatory evacuations are now underway near the Norse Peak Fire, just north of Mount Rainier.

The evacuation order was given about 7:30 p.m. Monday, according to employees at Crystal Mountain Resort.

"Basically from east peak, which is the main east side of the ski area to the north, for a while there it was just a solid wall of flames," said John Kircher, who owns the resort.

"The fire reached a management point that we had set up on the west end of the fire," said Juan Delgado from Norse Peak Fire Incident Command. "We're doing the best that we can to protect that (Crystal Mountain Resort)."

"It came roaring over the top there pretty fast and then down the far side of the ridge really fast, I was surprised, everybody was," said Kircher.

The resort was shut down Monday because of the heavy smoke and poor visibility.

"I would prefer to be indoors right now," said Tiana Anderson, a spokesperson for Crystal Mountain. "It's smoky. We're all kind of dealing with itchy eyes and just unpleasant air quality right now. But, hopefully that's going to change here soon in the next couple of days."

People who own condos in the area such as The Silver Skis Chalet were allowed to get their belongings earlier Monday, before the evacuation level was elevated.

"So it kind of came to the point where the winds changed, the smoke came in and the fire is pretty close so it was time to pull the trigger and come up here while we could," said condo owner Rebecca Raney.

"It's definitely smoky," said condo owner Jodi Scharnhorst. "It's hard. You can breathe, but it's definitely smoky."

She and her kids spent Monday packing up their ski condo while the area was under a Level one evacuation, meaning get ready to get out.

"I'm hopeful that we're just getting it and we're going to bring it all back up at the beginning of the ski season and have a great ski season," said Scharnhorst.

Kailey Schreck said she just went through this smoky situation in Eastern Washington.

"It's sad. I was just at Suncadia this weekend and it was up there too," she said.

The lightning-caused Norse Peak Fire has burned nearly 20,000 acres on the east side of the Pacific Crest Trail. It's only eight percent contained.

Fire crews said the heavy smoke, while bothersome for visitors, is a blessing for them, because it helps suppress the fire. But it could still take some time to get a handle on the fire.

"It's going to take a few days with how big the fire is," said Delgado. "Our goal right now is first and foremost, the safety of the firefighters. Second is to be able to protect these homes that are in the path and are threatened by the fire."

More than 330 firefighters are currently battling the Norse Peak Fire.

The changing winds have many neighbors worried.

"It could happen," said condo owner Jim Habenicht about the possibility of the fire reaching them. "The winds are really starting to pick up. If it does go it could go quick."

Crystal Mountain fire chief Paul Sowers said he has fire engines and fire fighters standing by in Enumclaw and Buckley to protect the resort if needed. He said, They have a good water system here.

"We'll have the resources in place and I don't foresee a problem." However, he added, "Fire is fire and it's going to do what it's going to do."

Crystal Mountain will make the decision Tuesday morning on whether to reopen.

A fire information meeting is scheduled for Nachez 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday at the Nile Valley Community Church. Another meeting is set for Crystal Mountain Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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