The National Interagency Fire Center predicted “above normal significant large fire potential” in the area in a report issued April 1, before the North Olympic Peninsula had more rain. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

The National Interagency Fire Center predicted “above normal significant large fire potential” in the area in a report issued April 1, before the North Olympic Peninsula had more rain. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Outlook report stirs fire concerns despite rain on North Olympic Peninsula

Drought or no drought? That is the question.

A national report that Western Washington is expected to have an active fire season through at least July has put North Olympic Peninsula fire departments on watch.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported April 1 that the region will have “above normal significant large fire potential” through the four-month outlook period.

The above normal conditions will expand to northeast Washington in June, according to the latest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook.

But since the latest outlook was published, North Olympic Peninsula lowlands have had several days of rain.

Cliff Mass, University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences professor, said April 10 that a wet April bodes well for the summer.

“April plays a critical role regarding summer drought in the Northwest,” Mass said on his blog at cliffmass.blogspot.com.

“If April is dry, the summer desiccation season gets a head start, leading to enhanced drying and a too rapid loss of snowpack. But a wet April is a boon, keeping the area moist and the snowpack in place.”

His reading is that the “current situation is not that serious.”

However, area fire departments, while hoping for the best, are preparing for the worst.

Clallam County Fire District No. 2 Chief Sam Phillips said he reviews the national reports every month and shares them with district commissioners.

“This one’s a little more dire than the one before,” Phillips said of the April outlook.

“It’s got our attention, for sure.”

Phillips added that the reports help the district prepare for expected weather and fuel conditions.

“Sometimes, it gives us an indication that we may want to start our wildland fire certification early,” he said.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) spokeswoman Leah Speser said the agency had its first wildfire of the year one month earlier than in 2018.

Crews extinguished a timber slash and vegetation blaze off Center Road in Chimacum on April 4.

“Obviously, any fire department uses all the information available, and weather is a key component of wildfire,” Speser said Friday.

“So we do monitor those [wildland fire potential outlooks] and take that into account. In this case, it already confirms what we’ve seen on the ground.”

The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlooks are based on weather and fuel conditions, snowpack and long-range forecasts.

“March was mostly cold but dry across the Pacific Northwest region after a February that was cold and quite wet,” the April 1 report said.

“Snowpack for late March over the higher elevations at month’s end was about 75 [percent] to 100 percent of normal across Washington and 100 [percent] to 158 percent of normal across Oregon with the highest accumulations east of the Cascades.”

Olympic Mountain snowpack was 76 percent of normal March 31 and 79 percent of normal Friday.

Snowpack is a measurement of the water content in the snow. It is measured as a 30-year average at three automated sites in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“Overall, much of Washington and northwestern Oregon have accumulated significantly less than average rainfall since the first of the year,” the fire outlook said.

Total precipitation in the Olympic Mountains since Oct. 1 was 86 percent of normal Wednesday.

“Several human-caused wildfires occurred in Washington and Oregon in late March during sustained dry, gusty easterly wind events,” the outlook said.

“This pattern could repeat itself through April and May if sustained precipitation does not return to the dry areas.”

EJFR posted tips on how to protect a home from wildfire at bit.ly/EJFRFirewise.

“Wildfire preparedness is increasingly important,” EJFR Chief James Walkowski said in an April 5 press release after the Center Road fire.

“This year our first fire occurred a month earlier than last year, which is a sign of the increased wildfire risk on the Peninsula. National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is May 4 this year, but this fire demonstrates the time to start preparing is now.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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