A “tent village” is forming at the fire camp at the Mason County Emergency Operations Center. More tents are expected in coming days.

A “tent village” is forming at the fire camp at the Mason County Emergency Operations Center. More tents are expected in coming days.

Health official watches air quality as Maple Fire continutes to grow

SHELTON — As the fast-moving Maple Fire continues to torch forestland near Hamma Hamma north of Shelton, initial analysis suggests that it will be burning for a long time.

As of Thursday afternoon, the fire had grown in size, scorching 811 acres. It was 5 percent contained.

“We expect it to grow 100 to 200 acres a day for the foreseeable future.” said Alan Hoffmeister, communications manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.

“This fire will continue to burn until the weather changes. If we reach a containment of 20 percent, we’ll feel really good about that.”

A community meeting is planned at 7 tonight at the Hamma Hamma Fire Station, 34571 N. U.S. Highway 101 in Lilliwap to discuss the fire and its impact.

Because the Maple Fire requires additional capacity to handle a growing city of more than 300 firefighting personnel, the U.S. Forst Service and incident command moved operations from the Brinnon Fire Station in Jefferson County to Shelton and the Mason County Emergency Operations Center.

The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCCA) — https://www.orcaa.org/ — has rated air quality in Shelton in the moderate range but Stuart Whitford, environmental health director for Jefferson County, said that most likely will change.

“There are only two air monitoring stations in the area, one in Shelton and one in Port Townsend,” he said. “There isn’t one in between. Because Port Townsend is a different maritime environment, the air quality in the Quilcene and Brinnon is much different. So our monitors don’t reflect what’s truly happening there.”

Whitford said that if the air quality in Shelton goes into the high range, he will issue instructions on what Jefferson County residents should do to protect themselves.

Air quality was rated as “good” in Jefferson and Clallam counties on Thursday.

Odelle Hadley, senior air monitoring specialist for ORCCA said that the winds are favorable.

“The winds at the fire are weak at the surface and based on satellite images, the smoke isn’t moving up and away from the fire location quickly,”Hadley said.

“It is impacting Jefferson County intermittently. There is smoke moving through the area, but in a few hours it clears out. The smoke is contained to the area of the fire along the Hood Canal for now.”

But this smoke behavior is not true for upper levels. Hadley said there is smoke over Port Townsend at a higher elevations above 1,500 feet. Fires in British Columbia, eastern Washington, southern Oregon and northern California are affecting the region at higher elevations.

“The strategy is to contain the fire on the east side, north of Hamma Hamma Creek and on the south side of Jefferson Creek,” Hoffmeister said.

”We’re doing it with improved roads and backburning towards the main fire. We’ve established a dozer-built line on east side. We have four helicopters to help support those lines.”

Hoffmeister said the the west side of the fire is moving toward the Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park.

“There are no good fuel breaks out there,” he said. “The county is steep and rugged, and it’s too dangerous to build a fire line that wouldn‘t hold anyway.”

He said fire experts were brought in to determine the best way to attack the flames.

“In the early days of the fire, a Type 3 team was assigned but, as it progressed, it grew out of their hands,” Hoffmeister said. “The Type 2 team is trained to take care of hundreds of people on the ground, develop tactics, manage aircraft and provide a city of resources for the crews that are from California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

“We have contract teams, national guard, forest service and DNR people. We also have to have professionals to track time cards and make sure reimbursements are made. There is also a medical unit trained to take care of wildfire injuries. We have people to inspect and maintain the aircraft, and safety experts to assess fire hazards.”

In addition to the loss of forest lands, animals are also affected.

“When a fire moves through an area, it creates a new, diversified landscape, Hoffmeister said. “Populations change. Spotted owl, elk, deer other animals will move out and others will take over the use of new habitat.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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