Red Flag warning issued for weekend

Smoke could affect Peninsula air quality by Saturday

All counties on the west side of the Cascades are under a red flag warning beginning today and extending through Sunday as meteorologists say weather conditions are prime for fire danger and heavy smoke.

“We have red flag warnings in effect for every single county to the west of the Cascade crest this weekend,” said meteorologist Matthew Dehr of the National Weather Service in Seattle, on Thursday.

“The one exception is the thin strip of land along the (Strait of Juan de Fuca) shorelines in Clallam and Jefferson counties, including the cities of Port Angles and Port Townsend,” he said.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is expecting an east wind over the weekend that, paired with already-critical fire weather conditions, could result in severe wildfire activity across the state — including west of the Cascades, the department said in a news release.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EFJR) said that sustained east or northwest 10-to-20 mph winds with 30-mph gusts are possible, in a news release issued Thursday morning.

The wind could drive smoke from wildfires in western Washington state to the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Fire danger will peak on Friday evening and Saturday morning when we do see those winds pick up across the westside,” Dehr said Thursday.

“We will also see our first major smoke impact of the year, due to fires already burning in the Cascades, for the west side and Puget Sound region.

“Jefferson and Clallam counties likely won’t see any of the smoke impacts until Saturday,” Dehr said.

Both East Jefferson and Port Ludlow fire districts have withheld mutual aid resources that usually support state mobilization so as to be prepared for local wildfires, according to EJFR.

“Both fire districts and adjacent fire service partners are coordinating our response efforts and Jefferson County residents are reminded to be diligent when cooking outside and report any unsafe activity,” EJFR said.

The City of Forks issued a burn ban for its residents, with exceptions for recreational fires in self-contained burn pits, smokers and barbecues.

Chief Jake Patterson of Clallam Fire District 2 said the district is recommending that people water their lawns to have a moisture barrier around homes.

They also should be mindful of their health if there is heavy smoke.

One site for checking air quality is airnow.gov.

Olympic National Park posted advice for campers, hikers and other visitors on its Facebook page about how to protect themselves and the forest from fire danger.

The park recommends campers skip campfires unless they are in designated sites with fire rings. If they do have campfires, then when they leave, they should make sure they are out and cold.

The park also asked smokers to be mindful of where they dispose of their cigarettes and make sure they are extinguished.

According to The Associated Press, marine influence on the west side of the Cascades usually prevents most fires from being able to grow rapidly in the region by keeping fuels like grass damps enough to blunt fire spread. But the high winds from the east are likely to dry out the fuels, allowing for fire to spread more easily once it starts.

“This weekend’s weather conditions hearken to the east wind event that contributed to the unpredictable fire behavior and rapid spread of the 2020 Labor Day weekend firestorm,” said Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands.

“Windy conditions amplify wildfire starts and make fighting those ignitions challenging,” she said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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