OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Firefighters continued efforts Tuesday to stamp out the East Beach Road Fire, with containment rising to 65 percent from 30 percent Monday and the burning area remaining at 84 acres, the Western Washington Type 3 Incident Management Team said.
“One of the great things, we had some weather come in [Monday], some rain even, that allowed fire activity to really dampen down,” said IMT Public Information Officer Nick Cronquist.
“Crews were able to get around the fire, put some secure lines around, and we are feeling confident about those measures,” Cronquist said. “Crews also removed some hazard trees, some large trees that were on fire that could potentially cross the line. Some big fallers went in and cleared out some of those trees.”
Operations will begin to transition from an active firefighting response to mop-up activities, Cronquist added.
“With the fire lines that have been drawn and putting the water structure in, that should fuel the mop-up aspect,” he said.
“I think with the water distribution coming down that hillside, we really will be switching to a mop-up show. We are looking to downsize some of the crews and leaving a crew in place to manage the fire.”
The fire is believed to be caused by humans, although it’s still under investigation by the National Park Service.
Operations have begun to reduce personnel as containment percentages increase on the fire, according to a press release from the incident management team.
On Tuesday, 175 firefighters were assigned to the fire, down from a peak of 225 personnel. Five hand crews, three engines and two fallers were fighting the fire, down from the seven hand crews, six engines, a tender and four fallers Monday.
“We have some portable water tanks up there, and firefighters have created a trunk line with hose lines that come off that, that allow crews to slowly work their way into the fire and keep it cool along the edges,” Cronquist said.
Aerial firefighting activity also was not required for the second straight day.
No helicopters were assigned to the fire Tuesday, although they are available locally.
The fire is burning primarily on a south-facing slope in steep heavy timber and is being pushed uphill by winds. Responders believe the harsh terrain won’t allow for complete suppression this summer.
Due to continued rolling debris and hazardous work areas, smoldering and creeping of fire activity is expected to continue over the next few weeks. Inversion layers and shifting wind patterns may push smoke into areas surrounding the fire.
“It’s likely to continue smoking for the duration of the rest of the season,” Cronquist said. “There are a few spots where the terrain makes it inhospitable for crews to get in and put out the fire.
“But we have a line around most of the fire. There are some steep places, but we are continuing to figure out ways to mitigate that.”
Today’s weather forecast calls for sunny conditions with light winds, but there is a potential for windy conditions tonight and into Thursday.
Cronquist believes the firefighting effort will keep the blaze corralled even if gusts hit the lake.
“Welcome to the Peninsula,” Cronquist said. “Living up here, you know the weather can be fickle. The fire has a circle on it, has firefighters on it, and it will be continually monitored for the rest of the season. There’s going to be smoke, it’s going to be visible, but we are confident the fire will stay in the containment lines.”
Cronquist said the Incident Management Team will remain in control of response to the fire, but it will transition responsibilities to Olympic National Park.
“We are going to start to filter in park employees on the crews and make it as seamless as possible to support this team and the needs of the firefighters out on the ground,” Cronquist said.
Firefighters are being cautious on and off the fire lines, Cronquist said.
“It’s something that is in the back of our minds, trying to best maintain a functional firefighting structure while being aware of and taking precautions against COVID-19,” he said.
“When they are in the field, when they are up on the fire line, the rule is to remain a tool length away from you and crew members and, for the most part, they are adhering to those guidelines,” Cronquist said.
“One of the bigger risks is having a camp and being in camp. We have been working with the Clallam County Emergency Management team and the county Health Department and following CDC recommendations,” he said.
Cronquist offered some examples of precautionary measures.
“Our morning briefings are over the radio instead of in-person,” Cronquist said. “Our division superintendents and task force leaders are doing a really good job of limiting proximity. And we have a national caterer that came in that has provided boxed meals, so we have limited interactions there, there’s no waiting in line or going through a salad bar.”
Agencies fighting the fire include Olympic National Park, the state Department of Natural Resources Olympic Region, Olympic Interagency Fire Management and Clallam County Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Services.
East Beach Road around Lake Crescent is closed from U.S. Highway 101 to Log Cabin Resort. Access to East Beach Road between Highway 101 and Log Cabin Resort is for local residents only.
Log Cabin Resort is still operating, but anyone trying to gain 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.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].