Lightning strikes spark two fires in Olympic National Park amid red-flag warning

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

More than 200 lightning strikes hit the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service, but the storm that brought them was expected to be gone by today.

A National Weather Service red-flag warning was expected to last until 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Lighting likely caused two small, low-risk brush fires reported in Olympic National Park, officials said.

One fire, measuring 5 feet by 5 feet, was discovered at 10:20 a.m. off Hurricane Ridge Road between mileposts 13 and 14. It was extinguished about two hours later, park spokeswoman Rainey McKenna said.

Park staff received a single report about a second small fire in the high backcountry of Appleton Pass, between the Sol Duc and Elwha River drainages, McKenna said.

Staff members had limited information on the fire, McKenna said, but they think it’s relatively small based on the amount of smoke.

“It’s in a high, remote location of the park, so it’s not a high-risk fire,” she said.

“We’re not worried about it endangering any surrounding communities or infrastructure,” she added.

Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said staff members hope to survey the area by plane in the next few days.

The National Weather Service extended Tuesday the area of a red-flag warning issued Monday for extreme fire danger, said Josh Smith, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Seattle.

Originally set for the eastern and middle sections of the Peninsula, it was extended west almost to the Pacific Ocean and covered all but a few strips of land along the Hood Canal, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific coast.

It included the mountains above Quilcene and Brinnon reaching past Forks and northwest toward Clallam Bay-Sekiu, Smith said.

A red-flag warning means critical weather conditions exist or are expected to develop in the near future.

The conditions can be caused by a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures.

Meteorologist Steve Reedy said most of the lightning strikes recorded Tuesday morning were on the west slopes of the Olympic Mountains.

The same weather system brought thunderstorms to the Puget Sound area that produced a lightning show for Seattle residents Monday night.

The Weather Service estimated that the state as a whole was hit by 705 lightning strikes in a 24-hour period through Tuesday morning, mostly in Western Washington, according to KOMO News.

Smith said forecasts for today and Thursday called for rain showers but that the thunder and lightning appeared to be on their way out.

“The chance of thunderstorms likely ends for the north coast after late [Tuesday] afternoon,” Smith said.

“We’re mainly just looking at showers through Thursday.”

Sequim-based Clallam County Fire District No. 3 responded to three small brush fires over the weekend.

All three fires were quickly contained and extinguished by firefighters, District No. 3 spokesman Patrick Young said.

Crews in Jefferson County extinguished two brush small fires in the Brinnon and Quilcene areas Sunday, according to fire officials.

The Kitsap Sun reported Tuesday that a wildfire near Skokomish, on the edge of Olympic National Forest, has grown to nearly 300 acres.

The fire is near a tiny Lake Haven that is in the Skokomish Valley, according to DNR.

Tuesday’s predicted conditions contributed to a ban on all outdoor fires, including recreational ones, for Jefferson County, said Bill Beezley, spokesman for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.

Beezley said Tuesday the ban would last at least for the day but that it would be evaluated on a “day-by-day basis” as the week progressed.

The ban joins one against all campfires in the state park put in place “until further notice to help prevent human-caused wildfires,” according to a State Parks statement.

Clallam County expanded its burn ban Monday to prohibit all recreational fires, except within the park and in other controlled campgrounds.

As of Tuesday, there were no special fire restrictions in the park, Maynes said, though park officials continue to evaluate conditions and will make changes if necessary.

The state Department of Natural Resources expanded its burn ban, which is in place through Sept. 30, on Monday to include all open-flame sources on all DNR lands.

All outdoor burning on DNR-protected lands is prohibited under the ban, including recreational fires in campgrounds or anywhere on DNR lands.

Lisa Romano, public information officer for Olympic National Forest, said there are no burn bans on national forest land.

“We’re always evaluating based on conditions, but so far, we haven’t determined that’s necessary,” Romano said.

There are currently seven major wildfires burning in Eastern Washington, which is part of the red-flag warning area that covers most of Washington and Oregon and a large portion of Northern California.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 12. 2014 7:12PM
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