Record-breaking heat fuels Olympic National Park fires

21 August 2016

published by http://www.peninsuladailynews.com


USA —  Soaring temperatures broke records in Port Angeles and Forks and fueled wildland fires in Olympic National Park.

The Hayes Fire in the Elwha Valley had more than doubled from Thursday to Saturday morning, while the nearby Godkin Fire grew by some 47 acres and the Cox Valley Fire near Hurricane Ridge exploded from 10 acres to 55 acres during the same time period because of heat, low humidity and wind, according to Koshare Eagle, fire information officer.

On Thursday and Friday, two North Olympic Peninsula cities set new heat records, according to the National Weather Service.

Forks reached a high of 96 degrees Friday, breaking its record of 85 degrees, set Aug. 19 in 2009 and 1966. At 96 degrees Thursday, Forks also broke the 2015 record of 90 degrees.

Port Angeles reached 94 degrees Thursday, breaking its record of 85 degrees set last year. Port Angeles also reached 91 degrees Friday, breaking its record of 84 degrees set in 1966.

Port Townsend had a high of 88 degrees Friday.

The forecast Saturday was for continued high temperatures with minimum relative humidity at 19 percent, Eagle said. The Weather Service extended a red-flag warning through Saturday evening.

Fires were expected to grow more through Saturday, but a cooling trend starting today was expected to begin to calm fire activity.

High temperatures are expected to drop into the 70s today, with humidity increasing up to 80 percent, Eagle said.

The heat wave was fueled by offshore flows coming from over the Cascade Mountains, said Josh Smith, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Seattle.

That changed to an onshore flow today, with a much milder and cooler air mass from over the Pacific Ocean flowing into the state.

Smoke generated from the park fires was easily visible around the Puget Sound region Friday evening and Saturday morning, Eagle said.

As the temperatures dropped into the evening Saturday, smoke was expected to naturally settle into the lower valley bottoms surrounding the park, according to the park.

The lower Elwha Valley including Lake Sutherland and Lake Crescent, Queets Valley, Morse Creek and the Deer Park areas and potentially the Sequim valley could experience an increase in smoke, Eagle said.

The Hayes Fire, which is 20 miles south of Port Angeles on a ridge line between the Lost and Hayes rivers, grew from 158 acres Thursday to between 350 and 450 acres early Saturday, according to fire managers.

The fire’s growth prompted closure of a section of the Hayden Pass Trail between Dose Meadows to the junction with the Elwha River.

The Godkin Fire, which is 25 miles south of Port Angeles along the Elwha River, grew during the same period from 90 acres to 137 acres.

Helicopter crews have been dropping water on the Cox Valley Fire, which is about 12 miles south of Port Angeles near PJ Lake north of Obstruction Point Road, and will continue to do so as needed, Eagle said.

The Ignar Creek Fire, 22 miles northeast of Lake Quinault, remained at about a half-acre.

With current estimates, up to 642 acres of wildland are burning in Olympic National Park.

All four fires are believed to have been started by lightning July 21. They were initially reported between July 25 and July 29.

The strategy for monitoring fires remains the same, Eagle said.

“We’re fortunate that it is still miles and miles and miles away from any people,” she said.

“The appropriate way to deal with it is to monitor and plan for protecting people as it changes and grows.”

There are park-owned structures nearby that fire managers are looking ahead to protect, she said.

Drone causes problems

On Thursday, a drone being flown near the Cox Valley Fire prevented firefighters from dropping water. Two loads of water were dropped before fire managers received a report of the drone.

Drones can collide with helicopters and cause crashes, aviation officials have said.

Drone launching is illegal within national parks and prohibited near wildfires.

“Flying drones near fires is never appropriate — period,” Eagle said.

Because of safety concerns, aviation safety requires wildland fire air operations to end immediately if drones are observed in the area.