One of seven wildfires that have been burning for three weeks in Olympic National Park grew to 3,500 acres over the weekend, in a trend that meteorologists described as a concerning sign of things to come.
The blazes, which ignited on August 28 due to lightning strikes in the area, had remained small until this weekend, when the flames took advantage of the uncharacteristically warm and dry conditions.
The park, on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle, is known for it's mild temperatures and frequent precipitation, responsible for the rainforests that make up the western portion of the park and pine forests to the east. The terrain is so green and lush that many had previously thought such fires impossible.
“There was so much moisture, it was thought that it couldn’t burn,” says Rep. Steve Tharinger, who represents Washington’s 24th legislative district, in an interview with Northwest Public Broadcasting.
Though large fires in the area have historically occurred every 150 to 300 years, larger blazes like the current Delabarre fire are becoming more common, with fires over 1,000 acres burning during four of the last eight years. The reason is down to climate change, which is producing warmer temperatures, reduced rainfall and drier conditions within the park, which turn forests into kindling when lightning strikes.
“To me, it shows that the forests are ready to burn more often,” says Matthew Dehr, wildfire meteorologist for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
While officials tend to let smaller fires burn in the park, which is good for the ecosystem, the increased number and size of wildfires combined with their proximity to people and infrastructure means that firefighters may have more work ahead of them to keep Olympic safe for visitors and locals.
Wildfire safety: prevention
If you ever see an unattended campfire, or a fire that seems to be burning out of control, call the fire service straight away.
Open fires are common causes of wildfires, with trash burning the culprit more often than not. If you burn your trash, you need to do so in line with local regulations. Do not burn trash when its windy and always have a fire extinguisher handy. Read more in our article on wildfire safety.