Wildfire smoke pools on Elwha Reservation, Port Angeles on Friday

Rains expected to begin Saturday

PORT ANGELES — Smoke flooded down the Elwha Valley overnight and on Friday was continuing to pile up in the Port Angeles area and drift over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

While those on the rest of the North Olympic Peninsula breath clean air, the air in Port Angeles and on the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation is not likely to get much better, if at all, until the wind shifts or the rains come, according to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).

The official monitoring station in Port Angeles, which is at the Port Angeles Fire Station, recorded 169 AQI, an unhealthy level of air pollution, at 12:30 p.m. today with the trend being for the amount to climb possibly into the very unhealthy level.

The air flow apparently is moving to the east since that station in Port Angeles was in the moderate range earlier Friday when a reading on the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation west of Port Angeles had soared over 400 AQI, which is considered hazardous for people and animals.

Personal monitoring stations (which are not maintained by ORCAA, but which are used by the agency) on the reservation showed slight decreases in pollution over Friday morning, but levels still remained high after noon.

A station at the Lower Elwha fish hatchery earlier this morning showed pollution over 400, which put it in the hazardous category, but since then, all personal monitoring stations on the reservation have shown pollution at 207 near the shore and 288 in the interior.

Wind direction, which was expected to shift overnight instead has stayed steady from the south, 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, is creeping through the Elwha Valley “like a glacier,” Nelson said Friday.

“The winds have become less powerful so smoke is just drfitng down the (Elwha) valley,” Nelson said, while overnight chilly weather pushed the smoke down toward ground level.

Smoke on Friday was not only pooling on the Elwha reservation and in Port Angeles but also was heading east, extending as far as the San Juan Islands but not affecting Sequim or Port Townsend.

The Port Angeles School District (PASD) is keeping students inside for recess and lunch and offers masks to staff and students who want them. They are optional.

Parents who are concerned about their children’s health may pick up them up early. These absences will be excused, according to an email from PASD.

“The smoke should dissipate through the day today, or at least by tomorrow,” said meteorologist Samantha Borth at the National Weather Service in Seattle on Friday.

A shift to more westerly winds is expected by tonight, she said, and rain is forecast to begin scrubbing the air by mid-morning Saturday.

A stronger system is expected to move into the region Sunday night.

For smoke information, see https://www.airnow.gov/ or https://wasmoke.blogspot.com/

For more about how to take care of yourself when the air is smoky, see https://doh.wa.gov/.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

EARLIER STORY

PORT ANGELES — Southerly winds pushed wildfire smoke from Olympic National Park down the Elwha Valley to populated areas on Thursday, but a state air quality monitoring agency official said this would be short-lived.

The smoke raised air quality to the “unhealthy” level at three stations just west of Port Angeles, according to AirNow, while decreasing air quality from “good” (green on the map) to “moderate” (yellow) in Port Angeles.

The air pollution increase began at about sunrise Thursday, according to Dan Nelson, communications manager with the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).

“It’s a direct result of fires in the Olympics,” he said Thursday. “Right around sunup this morning, south winds pushed smoke down the Elwha Valley.

“It’s literally contained to the Elwha Valley, with some elevation in Port Angeles,” he said.

“It’s a localized and short-term event.”

By the afternoon, the wind was beginning to blow from the north, pushing the smoke plume back into the park, Nelson said. He added that shifting wind may bring some smoke overnight back into the Elwha Valley before it blows from the north again and clears the air on the coast.

The downside is that the smoke pushed by northeasterly wind may seep into the Quinault Reservation, since the forecast is for the smoke plume to drift down the Quinault Valley toward the reservation, which is based in Taholah in Grays Harbor County.

However, on Friday, the expectation is that air flow will be up into the atmosphere instead of horizontally across land.

“By Friday afternoon, hopefully we should not see anything but ‘green’ across the board,” Nelson said.

Seven wildfires are burning in Olympic National Park after lightning strikes on Aug. 28.

The largest is the Delabarre Fire southeast of Mount Christie, a peak about 22 miles northeast of Lake Quinault. As of Thursday afternoon, the estimated size of that blaze was 3,800 acres, said Molly Pittman, ONP public affairs specialist.

Fire crews moved into areas north of the Delabarre fire on Wednesday to bolster numbers and prepare for structure protection operations on Thursday, according to a park press release. Those structures are park assets on trails, such as bridges and wilderness shelters.

“None of these fires are anywhere close to threatening any of our Peninsula communities,” Pittman said.

The Low Divide Fire had grown slightly to 315 acres, but there had been minimal fire activity elsewhere over the last couple of days due to modest overnight precipitation and cloud cover.

The two fires at Hurricane Ridge did not grow, according to the park. The Eagle Point Fire is at 123 acres with the Hurricane Fire at 4.

The Mount Queets Fire also is at 4 acres. Martins Lake Fire, northeast of Mount Christie, is at 108 acres. Diamond Mountain Fire, northeast of Anderson Pass, is at 30.

Today was expected to be warm and dry, factors that could lead to increases in fires, but rain is forecast for this weekend.

The Obstruction Point Road and Trailhead were closed soon after the fires began. Nine more trails have been closed to public access.

They are:

• 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.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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