OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — The East Beach Road Fire grew to 84 acres Sunday, but firefighters got a break with a cool, damp marine system that came into the area this weekend that helped tamp down the fire.
A total of 225 firefighters and eight hand crews are battling the blaze, which ignited Wednesday in steep terrain on a hillside on the north side of Lake Crescent.
The fire was still listed at just 15 percent contained Sunday, although crews have been busy all weekend building lines around it.
It grew from 65 acres on Saturday and is believed to be human-caused.
“The marine layer dampened the fire behavior,” said Nick Cronquist, a fire information officer for the state Department of Natural Resources.
A press release from the Western Washington Type 3 Management Team said that, with the fire settling down in the damp air, crews made good progress on the fire lines.
Cronquist said the fire is still listed at 15 percent contained because fire officials have to feel comfortable that it cannot jump those lines in order to be considered “contained.”
Crews were working Sunday to improve those lines on the eastern and western edges of the fire, he said.
The fire is believed to be human-caused because there was no lightning in the area last week. Cronquist said people have called the fire hotline with a number of possible leads and that the National Park Service is leading that investigation.
The fire caused heavy smoke last week, with Friday being the worst day. On Sunday afternoon, the air quality index in Port Angeles was listed at 18 parts per million (ppm) of particulates, which is considered “good.”
Anything over 50 is considered moderate or unhealthy for people with health conditions to be active outdoors.
Cronquist said steep slopes have proved to be a major challenge, making it difficult for firefighters to make a direct attack on the fire.
Firefighters this weekend had to deal with hazards such as debris rolling down the steep slopes, he said.
“The topography of this thing is pretty gnarly,” Cronquist said.
The weather forecast for today remains positive for firefighters, with continued cool and overcast skies and a high temperature of 67. Winds are forecast to be 5 to 7 mph today, possibly picking up to 8 to 10 mph tonight.
Tuesday and Wednesday are forecast to be clear with no strong winds forecast.
Cronquist said one of the biggest weather issues firefighters have faced is a “thermal belt” overnight that actually causes higher temperatures up the hillsides. At times, the temperature was as high as 70 degrees, he said, helping to feed the fire during the night.
Multiple agencies are fighting the fire, including the Olympic National Park, Department of Natural Resources Olympic Region, Olympic Interagency Fire Management and the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department.
Equipment battling the blaze includes nine engines, three helicopters, two tenders, six fallers and two pieces of heavy equipment.
East Beach Road remains closed from U.S. Highway 101 to Log Cabin Resort with access for local residents only. Log Cabin Resort is still operating. Anyone who needs access will need to take state Highway 112 to Piedmont Road. Day use recreation sites along East Beach Road in Olympic National Park are closed to the public at this time.
The staging area for firefighters and equipment has been at Crescent School in nearby Joyce and at Fairchild Airport west of Port Angeles. Tents have been set up at Crescent School for firefighters.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached by email at [email protected].