It’s the driest year on the Olympic Peninsula since 1895, according to Donna Nemeth, an information officer for the Paradise fire-management team.

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With flames traveling from treetop to treetop, the Paradise fire in the Olympic National Park had grown to about 798 acres by mid-day Tuesday, and continues to become more intense and  difficult to contain.

Smoke could be seen from Port Angeles, more than 30 miles away, said Diane Abendroth, an information officer for the Paradise fire-management team.

Authorities are finding it difficult to determine the exact size of the fire in the Queets River Valley because the forest is loaded with heavy fuels.

“There’s so much smoke,” Abendroth said.

The fire-management team noted that the fire, started by lightning, is burning in a remote area and isn’t considered a threat to property.

The relative humidity level in the rain forest was 30 percent Sunday night; the average relative humidity for this time of year is about 50 to 60 percent. A dry air mass and ridge-top winds of between 15-20 mph contributed to an increase in the fire’s intensity Sunday evening.

The team will take aerial-infrared photos Monday evening to determine a more accurate size. The fire has moved into steep, inaccessible terrain, and smoke jumps were called off over the weekend.

“They can’t operate there,” Abendroth said. “They achieved what we brought them in here to do: to wrap up … flat areas to keep the fire (from) spreading down the valley.”

Eighteen firefighters and two helicopters are working to manage the fire. More resources have been called in to help.

Incident-team member Stuart Lovejoy said Monday evening that the day had been relatively quiet, though the team expects the fire to increase in size and complexity.

“We are expecting a heat wave. We are nervous about what that could bring,” Abendroth said.

Through Wednesday, the forecast looks relatively mild, said Andy Haner, a fire-weather meteorologist at the National Weather Service. But later this week, it will be hot and dry, he said.

“By Friday, the sun will be out in full force where the fire’s at. Temperatures will start to heat up,” Haner said. “By Saturday, out where the fire is it could be 90 or a little higher.”

Haner expects little cloud cover later this weekend on the peninsula, but he said wind shouldn’t be too problematic for firefighters.

Experts across the state are concerned about dry conditions this season and the fact the snowpack is gone. Nationwide, wildfires are growing larger and becoming more volatile.


January through April rainfall

Rainfall data for Elwha for the first four months of 2015 is down from last year, though not as low as in 2009. Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (Garland Potts / The Seattle Times)
Rainfall data for Elwha for the first four months of 2015 is down from last year, though not as low as in 2009. Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (Garland Potts / The Seattle Times)

Lovejoy, of the fire-management team, said the Olympic National Park, especially on the west side, tends to be very wet, so large fires are rare.

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“It’s unusual to get fires like this,” Lovejoy said Monday evening, at the same time a public meeting was held in Port Angeles to update residents on fire activity. “It’s drier than most folks have seen around here for many years.”

Mr. and Mrs. John Maxwell sprinkle water on the ruins of their nine-unit motel after the Great Forks fire in 1951. The Maxwells wet down their home, adjoining the motel, and were able to save the house as the forest fire swept through the north part of Forks. (Seattle Times, 1951)
Mr. and Mrs. John Maxwell sprinkle water on the ruins of their nine-unit motel after the Great Forks fire in 1951. The Maxwells wet down their home, adjoining the motel, and were able to save the house as the forest fire swept through the north part of Forks. (Seattle Times, 1951)

It’s the driest  year on record since 1895, according to Donna Nemeth, an information officer for the Paradise fire-management team. On Monday, officials had said this year was the driest since 1951 on the Olympic Peninsula.

In 1951, the Great Forks fire traveled nearly 18 miles in a single day and nearly destroyed the town that gave the fire its name. More than 30,000 acres were burned.

News reports from 1951 described streams of sirens, “sparks and embers raining through the air,” and ash filling “eyes, hair, ears and mouths and coating everything with a fine powdery cover.”

“The sky has been so dark with smoke that no one can tell when daytime ended and night began,” wrote the Port Angeles Evening News after the fire had been extinguished.

Despite an evacuation order, some Forks residents stayed to fight the fire, which helped spare the town.

Fire weather across the state

 

Related video: The Northwest’s snowpack drought

Thousands of Yakima basin farmers will be short of water this summer, in a year marked by a stunning lack of snow to feed a river that sustains crops worth more than $2 billion annually. Read more. (Steve Ringman & Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)    

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced a burn ban for all state-protected lands Monday, and the forecast across the state this week looks problematic for wildfires.

“This weekend will be the first real test for fire season,” Haner said. “Out in Eastern Washington this coming weekend, especially when you get out to Sunday and Monday, they’re looking at triple-digit temperatures well in excess of 100.”

Haner said there’s a possibility that storms with lightning could roll through the state early next week.

“In a normal year, a lightning outbreak in the last few days of June wouldn’t concern me that much. This year, it’s a concern,” Haner said.

Seattle is “well on its way” to a record-warm June, the National Weather Service said. The average temperature for the first three weeks of the month was 76.6 degrees, one degree warmer than the previous record for three weeks set in 1969.

The month has also been very dry, with only 0.22 inches of precipitation, according to the weather service. The average amount for June is 1.49 inches. If the dry conditions continue, this month will be the fourth-driest June on record.

Thunder Creek fire

In North Cascades National Park, the Thunder Creek fire that has burned 103 acres is 60 percent contained. The fire, located eight miles up Thunder Creek drainage from Colonial Creek campground, was detected May 30.

Portions of Thunder Creek and Fisher Creek trails are closed “for the safety of hikers and everyone else,” said Katy Hooper, a public-information officer for the group managing the fire.

Information in this article, originally published June 22, 2015, was corrected June 23, 2015. A previous version of this story stated that the Paradise fire-management team said this year was the driest since 1951. The year was later corrected to be 1895.