Wet weeks = ‘Grassoline’

Although mild so far, fire season not over

Posted 8/21/19

This time last year, the skies were filled with smoke from regional wildfires, choking the lungs of residents and visitors alike. This year, the air is clear and the skies are blue.

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Wet weeks = ‘Grassoline’

Although mild so far, fire season not over

Posted

This time last year, the skies were filled with smoke from regional wildfires, choking the lungs of residents and visitors alike. This year, the air is clear and the skies are blue.

According to the AirNow website, the Port Townsend monitoring station on Aug. 22, 2018 indicated air quality had improved a little and been upgraded to the “Unhealthy for Everyone” range.

This year on Aug. 19 Port Townsend’s air quality was listed as ”Good.”

The difference is the lack of regional wildfires due to summer rains, although the region is still in a drought, fire officials say, and high-risk fire season is not over.

While the wetter-than-expected summer months have diminished the risk of wildfires on the North Olympic Peninsula at present, they may have prompted the growth of additional vegetation which could become fuel down the road, fire officials say. Fire crews call that summer flush “grassoline” when it dries out.

“Predictive Services had forecasted above normal fire activity on the west side of Washington for July, August and September,” said Janet Pearce Department of Natural Resources communications manager. “Lucky for us, the rain made its way through. The rain has helped somewhat to lessen the fire potential.”

It is important to note the current fire season is not yet over, Pearce said.

“Washington state is always at risk for wildfires, especially in the dry summer months. Many parts of Washington are also still in drought.”

According to the The National Drought Mitigation Center, Eastern Jefferson County currently is experiencing moderate drought while the western portion of the county is in severe drought.

That is a reversal from mid-June when the U.S. Drought Monitor changed its classification of the Olympic Peninsula region’s 2019 drought from moderate to severe, predicting crop and pasture damage, water shortages and water restrictions.

On June 10, the Hoh River saw its lowest flow ever on record for that day, as did the Satsop River in the southern part of the Peninsula.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest River Forecast Center forecasts the Elwha and Skokomish Rivers will have their second-lowest seasonal (April-September) flows on record.

The Olympic Peninsula saw an “unseasonably” warm and dry spring, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, with Washington in general experiencing its fourth-driest March since 1895, when Washington climate records began being kept.

The Western Olympic Peninsula saw its second-driest March-May period on record. As of May 1, the Peninsula was at 50% of normal rainfall, and on April 1, when snowpack level usually reaches its peak, it was 75% of normal.

When it comes to low river flow, The Department of Ecology considers two factors before making an emergency drought declaration: Water supply conditions must be at or below 75% of average flow and the low water levels must be projected to cause “undue hardships.”

But the water flow in Eastern Jefferson County remains relatively good for this time of the year. According to the Dept. of Ecology, as of Aug. 19, Tarboo Creek was at 79%,

Chimacum Creek was at 94% and the Little Quilcene was at 99%. Information on the flow in the Big Quilcene and Snow Creek was not available as of press time. The extra rainwater may pose a problem in the coming months, Pearce said.

“The earlier rains did help grow our grasses, make them taller and as they dry out, they become fuel.”

Such light fuels make for excellent tinder for a stray spark, said Chief Jim Walkowski of East Jefferson Fire Rescue.

Just in case there is a fire, DNR is ready to respond, Pearce said.

“We have initial attack crews throughout the state working in partnership with the fire districts.”

The best way to fight a wildfire may be to prevent them from sparking in the first place.

“Defensible space around your home can help your home survive should you need to evacuate,” Pearce said.

This includes limiting the amount of vegetation and debris around a home and using flame retardant materials on buildings.

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