Not an Eruption

My friend Ed and his brother steered their Harley-Davidsons into my driveway late Saturday night, having driven 3500 miles since June 30th. Original plans called for me to meet them near Mount St. Helens, but my workload made that impossible so they decided to come stay for two nights at my house. The one condition was that I took them to Mount Rainier on Sunday to do a little hiking.

We got down to the Sunrise viewpoint area of the park before 10am and started hiking up and over Dege Peak and onwards to the Sunrise Visitor Center. The weather was perfect, the views spectacular, and there were surprisingly very few people on the trail. We took our time and hiked just over 5 miles round-trip while spending plenty of time atop Dege Peak soaking in the views and at the visitor center staring through the telescopes at the climbers descending from the summit.

We exited the visitor center and immediately noticed something wasn't right -- there was a massive cloud exiting what appeared to be the flank of Mt. Adams to the south. Mt. Adams is another one of the volcanoes in the Cascade Range and we at once thought the volcano was experiencing a rather large steam eruption. It was all the buzz. Everyone we met on the trail on the return-trip was staring off at Mt. Adams wondering if it was about to blow... and wondering if we were safe. This is what we saw.

Easily mistaken for a steam eruption.

I was wondering how such a large steam eruption could have possibly happened so close by without us hearing it. The reason we didn't hear it was because it wasn't a volcanic eruption. It was, instead, the rapid spreading of a once-tiny wildfire on the south side of the volcano.

According to reports that night, the fire was two acres in size about the time we started our hike, but grew to 400 acres by Sunday afternoon. Hence, the sudden appearance of the large plume of smoke. We zoomed in with cameras from our perch on Sourdough Ridge and one could see ash falling closest to the volcano and even a faint red glow. It was ash alright, but from burning wood.

From the, as of 10pm Monday night:

TROUT LAKE -- The biggest fire to strike Washington's South Cascade Range in decades continued to grow Monday, as weather forecasters warned of hazardous fire conditions for most of the east side of the state.

The Cold Springs Fire had burned about 9 square miles, or more than 6,000 acres, in south-central Washington near Mount Adams, the state's second-highest peak. The fire was burning in timber, some beetle-killed, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

No homes were threatened, but firefighters wrapped a historic guard station built in 1909 with a fire-retardant material and built fire lines to try to protect it, said Chris
Strebig, Gifford Pinchot spokesman.

Yesterday morning the fire was just 2 acres in size and it's now burned over 6,000 acres. I wish nothing but the speediest and safest containment of the fire and am glad that there aren't any homes or personal property in danger. That said, mistaking this fire for a steam eruption added an unforgettable chapter to the cross-country trip my friends are taking. Having never been anywhere near volcanoes before, seeing Rainier so close was a huge treat for them and watching what we thought may have been another volcano mid-eruption less than 100 miles away only made it that much more memorable. Even if it wasn't.

The view from the trail wasn't too shabby.

1 comment:

Gregg P said...

From the angle you were at, I could see how you could mistake that fire plume for an eruption plume! Cool photo!