Air quality remained marginal at best and unhealthy for sensitive groups in many areas of the North Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday as smoke from wildfires driven by easterly winds continued to hem in much of western Washington.
A new wildfire, the Murdock Beach Fire, was burning west of Joyce on Wednesday afternoon, the state Department of Natural Resources confirmed.
“The Murdock Beach Fire is at 5 acres just off state Highway 112,” DNR spokesperson Janet Pearce said. “It was called in around 7 a.m. [Wednesday] morning, and DNR is coordinating the response.”
The newest blaze is one of many in the region.
The smoke “really isn’t [improving greatly],” National Weather Service meteorologist Jacob DeFlitch said Wednesday morning.
“In the Port Angeles area, the air quality shows moderate, but as you go further east toward Puget Sound, you see a lot of ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’ and just ‘Unhealthy’ readings. With the weather conditions we have, the smoke is sticking around and really will for the next few days.”
An Air Quality Alert is in place until 11 a.m. Thursday for 14 western Washington counties, including Clallam and Jefferson, due to continued easterly flow transporting smoke from wildfires in Eastern Washington coupled with little change expected in atmospheric conditions.
DeFlitch said ridges of high and low pressure contributed to the unusual late-summer weather event.
“There’s a high pressure area off to the east in the Northern Rockies and low pressure off shore,” DeFlitch said. “Winds began to flow easterly through the Cascades and down the Cascades, and that ignited some fires.
“Once the east winds picked up [Monday evening], gusts in the foothills were up to 45 miles per hour, and that’s what deposited all that smoke.”
The Air Quality Alert warns that poor air quality may continue into the weekend due to shifting winds.
An offshore flow with light winds from the northwest is expected Friday.
“It should be a decent push, but it’s always difficult to highlight what the smoke will do a few days out,” DeFlitch said.
“The concern is, there is a ton of smoke off the Oregon coast from all the fires they are battling on the western side of the Cascades. If any of that smoke to the south of us makes its way north, our air quality could become extremely degraded.
DeFlitch said winds coming from the south or southwest would have the most negative impact on conditions but cautioned that fire activity can be found in nearly every direction.
“There’s not many directions the wind can take that won’t bring smoke into the area,” DeFlitch said.
The Mount Lena Fire, located near Hamma Hamma in the southeast portion of Olympic National Forest, was one of 11 small blazes ignited by lightning Aug. 16 on federal land. The Mount Lena Fire is the only one still causing concern among firefighters.
That fire has “become significantly more active as a result of hot, dry, unstable weather conditions expected through much of this week,” according to a U.S. Forest Service press release.
“The fire is about 1 acre right now,” said Jared Low, spokesperson for Western Washington Type 3 Incident Management Team.
No fire-suppression activities are being taken at this time.
“It’s burning atop a ridge in steep, inaccessible terrain, and no life or structures are being threatened,” Low said.
Other fires across the state also are commanding more wildland firefighting resources, Low said.
Fire personnel will continue to evaluate the fire’s behavior. Smoke from the Mount Lena fire may be visible at times.
Due to extreme fire danger and concern for public safety, Olympic National Forest is closing the Lena Lake trail system (Trail Nos. 810, 811 and 821). The fire is burning within a half-mile of the trail system.
The closure prohibits public access to trails that lead to both Upper and Lower Lena lakes, as well as the southern portion of The Brothers Wilderness.
All visitor use past the Lena Lake trailhead at the junction of Forest Road 25 is prohibited. The trail and area closure will be in place until the fire no longer poses a threat to the area.
In Clallam County, the East Beach Road fire above Lake Crescent has burned 84 acres but is 98 percent contained.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].