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Dry Weather Parches Rain Forest, Fans Wildfire In Olympic National Park

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Paradise Fire Incident Management Team
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The Paradise Fire flared up Sunday, spreading to an estimated 600 acres in Olympic National Park.

A smoldering fire in Olympic National Park flared up over the weekend, scorching at least 600 acres before heavy smoke and inaccessible terrain made the blaze too hard to measure.

In what is usually the wettest area of the lower 48 states, parts of the rainforest landscape have turned to tinder this year and set the stage for the rapid spread of the Paradise Fire.

“What’s actually carrying the fire are the lichens in the very tops of the trees. They're so dry that they’ll actually carry fire, and so the fire is jumping through the tree canopies,” said Donna Nemeth, an information officer with the Fire Incident Team made up of National Park Service and National Forest Service personnel.

Members of the incident team say the Olympic Peninsula is experiencing the lowest average precipitation since 1969, and snowpack is 1-5 percent of average.

On Sunday, a mass of warm, unstable air whipped up the fire, sending it spreading from the Queets River valley up steep drainages. Nemeth says the terrain is impossible for firefighters to access safely, so crews are engaging the fire when they can, with the help of water drops from helicopters. Eighteen firefighters were on the job as of Monday morning, though smoke jumps had been suspended.

Nemeth says the fire remains in a remote area of the park and so far doesn’t appear to threaten lives or property. Crews plan to conduct aerial infrared surveys to better assess the extent of the damage. 

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