PORT ANGELES — Smoke flooding down the Elwha Valley overnight from Olympic National Park fires led to residents waking up to dense smoke in the Port Angeles area on Friday.
By the end of the day, it was dispersing and the National Weather Service forecast of rain today was expected to comb pollutants out of the air.
While those on the rest of the North Olympic Peninsula breathed clean air, the air in Port Angeles and on the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation was in the unhealthy-to-hazardous range early Friday, and that wasn’t expected to improve until the wind shifted or the rains arrived, according to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).
But by 4:30 p.m. Friday, the official monitoring station in Port Angeles, which is at the Port Angeles Fire Station, was back to showing a moderate level of pollution — where it had been early Friday — after recording 169 AQI, an unhealthy level, at 12:30 p.m.
The high level in Port Angeles followed a reading on the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation that soared over 400 — hazardous — early Friday, but by 4:30 p.m. was down to between 101 and 150, which is air considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Air flow apparently was moving to the east. Although Sequim and Port Townsend were in the clear, smoke was curling across the Strait of Juan de Fuca as far as the San Juan Islands.
Wind direction, which had been expected to shift overnight Thursday into Friday instead stayed steady from the south into Friday morning, according to Dan Nelson, ORCAA spokesman, and the National Weather Service.
Smoke from wildfires in Olympic National Park, especially the 3,800-acre Delabarre Fire, crept through the Elwha Valley “like a glacier,” Nelson said Friday.
“The winds have become less powerful so smoke is just drifting down the (Elwha) valley,” Nelson said, while overnight chilly weather pushed the smoke down toward ground level.
The Port Angeles School District (PASD) kept students inside for recess and lunch and offered masks to staff and students who wanted them. The masks were optional. Parents who were concerned about their children’s health were allowed to pick them up early. Those absences were excused, according to an email from PASD.
The school district also canceled outdoor athletic activities in Port Angeles. Indoor and out-of-town athletic activities were to continue as scheduled. That included Friday night’s Port Angeles v. Sequim football game, which was played in Sequim.
Meteorologist Samantha Borth at the National Weather Service in Seattle expected smoke to be cleared by today, she said Friday.
A shift to more westerly winds was expected by the evening, she said, and rain was forecast to begin mid-morning today.
A stronger system is expected to move into the region Sunday night.
For more about how to take care of yourself when the air is smoky, see https://doh.wa.gov/.
Seven wildfires are burning in Olympic National Park after lightning strikes on Aug. 28.
Fire officials expected to see increased fire activity on Friday but estimates of fire sizes were not available as of late Friday afternoon.
On Thursday, the largest of the park fires, Delabarre Fire — which is southeast of Mount Christie, a peak about 22 miles northeast of Lake Quinault — was estimated to cover 3,800 acres, said Molly Pittman, ONP public affairs specialist.
Fire crews moved into areas north of the Delabarre fire on Wednesday to monitor and protect historic cabins, trail improvements and park infrastructure.
“None of these fires are anywhere close to threatening any of our Peninsula communities,” Pittman has said.
As of Thursday, the Low Divide Fire had grown slightly to 315 acres while the two fires at Hurricane Ridge did not grow — the Eagle Point Fire was at 123 acres and the Hurricane Fire at 4.
The Mount Queets Fire also was at 4 acres. Martins Lake Fire, northeast of Mount Christie, was at 108 acres. Diamond Mountain Fire, northeast of Anderson Pass, was at 30.
The Obstruction Point Road and Trailhead were closed soon after the fires began. Nine more trails have been closed to public access.
• Elwha River Trail from Elkhorn to Low Divide.
• Bailey Range Traverse beyond Cat Basin.
• Long Ridge Trail to Dodger Point.
• Hayden Pass Trail.
• Dosewallips River Trail from Dose Meadows to Hayden Pass.
• Dodger Point Way Trail.
• North Fork Quinault Trail from Elip Creek trail junction to Low Divide.
• Skyline Trail from Elip Creek Trail junction to Low Divide.
• Martin Park Trail.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at email@example.com.