PORT ANGELES - Port Angeles residents have a false sense of security as the region moves into the most dangerous portion of the summer's unprecedented fire season, Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc said.
Residents aren't getting the message that a backyard campfire, a discarded cigarette or even just a car with a hot tailpipe parked in high grass can spark a fire in a historically dry summer season - and a wildfire can happen as easily in the city as in the woods, Dubuc
"We have a fire burning in a rainforest.
That's incredible in a place that has one of the highest rainfall amounts in the country," he
said, referring to the Paradise Fire, which had burned 2,425 acres in the Queets River valley as of Thursday morning.
said the fire department is still fielding calls from residents who ask if they can have backyard fires and question the burn ban rules, and recently he
discovered a pile of trash discarded on Little River Road and set on fire.
"What is happening here is unprecedented," Dubuc
"It is difficult for people's minds to wrap around that things are different."
Living in Port Angeles'
developed neighborhoods in the middle of the city is no guarantee of safety against wildfires, Dubuc
Dubuc was a young firefighter in Marin County, Calif., when the Oakland Hills Fire erupted in October 1991 and was one of thousands who fought the giant firestorm that burned more than 1,500 acres and 3,000 homes in the heavily developed city, killing 25 and injuring more than 150.
It could happen in Port Angeles
"In a lot of ways, it is not different," he
said Port Angeles' situation isn't as extreme as the tinder-dry conditions that existed when the Oakland Hills Fire blazed through city blocks, but he
warned that a devastating fire could happen.
The Great Forks Fire of 1951 burned 1,600 acres of timber and nearly consumed the city before it was stopped on the town's outskirts, and historic photos taken in 1896 show burn scars in town from a fire that scorched thousands of acres from Port Angeles
into the Olympic Mountains.
Port Angeles' wildland-urban interface areas are expanding further from town, along wooded roads extending into the foothills.
"We have homes in places where we have not lived before," Dubuc
There are even wildland-urban interfaces in the middle of town, he
Heavily wooded valleys
Five heavily wooded valleys contain Tumwater Creek, Valley Creek and Peabody Creek, White Creek and Ennis Creek, and there are wooded lots behind Stevens Middle School
and near Hamilton Elementary School
in west Port Angeles.
said a wildfire could start in any one of them and escape into the city, where many residents have large, drought-dry trees and dry grass, or a fire could begin on the southern edges of town, where the city meets forested lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources and Olympic National Park.
The city was fortunate that an Aug. 4 fire that burned 2 acres in the Valley Creek drainage above Lauridsen Boulevard didn't burn a day earlier, when there were high winds that could have spread the fire quickly into the neighborhood west of Port Angeles High School
The fire began near the Verne Samuelson Trail at the bottom of the creek valley, but the exact source was not known.
said there is no guarantee the winter rains will start "on schedule" this year, and the past few years have had extended fire seasons into October.
Cooler temperatures as the area heads into autumn is not an indication of a reduced fire danger, he
said, adding that it will take at least several days to a week or more of heavy rain before the fire danger passes.
"It's not a normal weather pattern," he
The county burn ban is scheduled to end Oct. 1, but if conditions remain dry, the ban may be extended until the rains extinguish the risk.
While lightning storms can cause fires, the majority of fires are human-caused, Dubuc
As temperatures drop, home wood-stove heating adds to the risk, he
suggested several steps to reduce the chances of fires: