A National Guard helicopter doused the Maple Fire Tuesday. (Department of Natural Resources)

A National Guard helicopter doused the Maple Fire Tuesday. (Department of Natural Resources)

Maple Fire base camp moved from Brinnon as blaze grows

BRINNON — This Jefferson County town of about 800 people just wasn’t big enough to accommodate fire crews battling the growing Maple Fire.

The crews moved their base camp Wednesday to the Mason County Emergency Operations Center north of Shelton to accommodate their increasing contingent of personnel needed to squelch the flames, said a spokesman with Northwest Interagency Incident Management Team 10, coordinated out of Portland, Ore.

“We felt the fire station in Brinnon was not big enough to handle the people,” Alan Hoffmeister said Wednesday.

“Brinnon was really too far away, and where we are is really too far away, but there’s not anything much in between.

“We thought this would be a good place to develop a large camp.”

The fire, burning in Olympic National Forest’s Hood Canal Ranger District, had grown by 17 percent by Wednesday, encompassing 411 acres with steep terrain compared to 350 acres a day earlier, state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie said Wednesday.

The fire, located about 15 miles southwest of Brinnon and due west of Hamma Hamma, is about 5 percent contained. The 160 personnel on the ground anticipate cooler winds today, Smillie said.

Its growth rate “is beginning to slow down a little bit,” he added.

Hoffmeister said efforts are underway to draw as many firefighters as possible to supplement the DNR, Forest Service, city of Seattle and other fire district personnel battling the blaze on foot and in the air with helicopters.

They hope to protect high-value trust lands to the east of the fire, he said.

The fire does appear to be moving west to higher elevation country, where “there’s not a lot we can do about it except wait for precipitation,” Hoffmeister said.

“The country is so rugged, so steep, with heavy fuels that it’s not safe to put people in there against the fire, and there are not a lot of roads and natural barriers to stop it.

“North, south and east, we are doing what we can with existing roads, building some lines.

“We’re going to try to keep it in as small a footprint as we can.”

A lack of resources is hampering firefighters’ efforts, Hoffmeister said.

“A lot of orders for necessary equipment are coming back UTF,” he said, short for unable to fill.

“We wanted a fuel truck [so] our engines could refuel and couldn’t find one.”

Hoffmeister explained that there is a shortage of equipment and crews from local, state and national sources.

Smillie said Wednesday afternoon that the agency has received sightings of the fire’s smoke from Seattle, 62 miles southeast of Brinnon.

Brinnon area residents picking up groceries at the Brinnon General Store on Highway 101 were complaining Wednesday of trouble breathing from the smoke, store clerk Jessica Hardin said.

“It depends on which way the wind is blowing,” she said.

Smillie said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation for the time being.

“Right now, the focus is on getting it contained and under control, then we’ll go do that,” Smillie said.

The fire’s growth has been fueled by lack of moisture in the trees, a condition Smillie said DNR was recently able to quantify.

Trees in Western Washington have about half the average moisture content that they should at this time of year, Smillie said.

“Western Washington has had no appreciable precipitation since May,” he said.

The Maple Fire Closure Area that affects the general public includes Forest Service Roads 2423 and 2401 and associated spur roads, and a portion of Forest Service Road 2441.

Forest Service trail closures also affected Jefferson Ridge Trail, 801; Lower Elk Lake, 805; Upper Elk Lake Trail, 805.1; and Jefferson Lakes Trail, 808.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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