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article imageWashington's 'Big Four Ice Caves' closed after collapse and death

By Karen Graham     Jul 7, 2015 in Environment
One person is dead and five others injured after the partial collapse of Washington state's popular Big Four Ice Caves Monday night in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Marblemount.
Monday's collapse of the popular attraction came just one day after a hiker, Sara Soleimani, of Long Beach, California, had filmed one section of the caves tumbling down. Several tourists were inside the cave on Sunday when the ice fell, but no injuries were reported.
The ice caves, created by melting ice, are located at the base of permanent ice fields. Warning about the dangers of melting ice had been posted, but authorities have now closed the caves until further notice, following the collapse on Monday.
Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Shari Ireton said late Monday the person who died still remains buried under the debris at Big Four Ice Caves. Recovery efforts were suspended at nightfall, according to the Associated Press. The caves are about 70 miles northeast of Seattle, Wash.
Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg said on Tuesday that three of the injured were airlifted to the trauma center, and their conditions have since improved. One 25-year-old man is in intensive care, and he has been upgraded from critical to serious condition.
A 35-year-old man has been moved out of intensive care, and he is now listed as being in satisfactory condition. A 35-year-old woman was treated and released Monday night, said Gregg.
Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, hospital spokeswoman Diane Torrance said Tuesday they had treated two minors, and they were released. Ireton says it is believed that all the victims from the cave collapse has been accounted for.
The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Forest Service said the Big Four Ice Caves will remain closed until the victim's body is recovered and further assessment of the caves is completed. Tracy O'Toole, a spokeswoman for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, told the Daily Herald of Everett that multiple signs have been put up warning of the danger.
Signs were posted back in May warning hikers the ice caves were in a "most dangerous state" due to the unseasonably warm weather. On Monday, the temperature reached 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat wave and the low winter snow-pack has been record-breaking.
AccuWeather Meteorologist Mike Doll says temperatures have been 10 to 15 degrees higher than normal for Washington state since July 1. "In the month of June, much of the state experienced temperatures of 5 to 8 degrees above normal," Doll said. "The heatwave will ease later this week, but temperatures will remain above normal this weekend through the middle part of July."
The ice caves in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are reached by hiking the Big Four Ice Caves Trail, a National Recreation Trail. The Big Four Ice Caves attracts over 50,000 visitors per year, often exceeding several hundred hikers per day. The trail-head's two separate parking areas are often filled beyond capacity occasionally forcing hikers to park along neighboring Mountain Loop Road.
The caves are formed by avalanches that cascade down Big Four Mountain during the winter and spring. There are usually anywhere from one to two caves formed every year. Big Four Mountain rises 6, 180 feet in elevation. At the bottom of its north face, it is very steep.
Big Four Mountain near Granite Falls  Washington  USA
Big Four Mountain near Granite Falls, Washington, USA
Because the north side of the mountain is in continuous shade, the debris piles from avalanches remain year round. This ice forms the lowest elevation glacier in the lower 49 states. During the summer, snow-melt streams flow beneath the debris piles and this causes the caves to be formed in the ice.
But climate change is playing a role in the heat wave in Washington state as well as in western Canada.We are seeing an extremely volatile fire season in B.C. and Saskatchewan, as well as in the western U.S. In 1971, there were 295 glaciers in Washington, and that number has been falling steadily due to continued warm temperatures and negative mass balance.
More about big four ice caves, Washington, Heat wave, Collapse, One dead
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