The season of terrible drought and fire keeps getting worse in North America. In the past few weeks, hundreds of patches of forest in the Canadian and Alaskan boreal have gone up in flames. Now, one of America’s last remaining old growth forests — the Queets rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington — is also burning.
Currently covering over 1200 acres, Paradise Fire is the largest blaze in the park’s history, and it may rage all summer long.
Olympic, home to some of the oldest patches of forest in America, in one of the wettest regions in the world, typically receiving more than 200 inches of rainfall annually. But this year, the forest is exceptionally dry, thanks to a warm winter that prevented much of the snowpack from forming. Right now, the Queets River — the largest river flowing west of the Olympics — is running at less than a third its normal volume.
Picture: Seattle Times
Historically, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest have only burned once every century or two. But if hotter, drier winters and springs are the new normal, we could start seeing fires like this one much more often. And that could dramatically alter the ecosystems of the Northwest, influencing everything from the types of plants and animals present to the amount of carbon the forests store.
According to The Seattle Times, Paradise Fire is mostly creeping beneath the surface, burning through the thick, dry forest floor. But occasionally, it spreads up the lichens that coat the rainforests’ massive Sitka spruce, hemlock, and Douglas fir trees like sheets of kindling. The big concern, firefighters say, is that some of these small burns will morph into raging, blazing crowns as the summer goes on. If that happens, it will be much easier for the winds to blow the fire from place to place.
So, if you were planning a hike in Queets this year, you miiight just want to reschedule until further notice. At the very least, be sure to bring plenty of tubs and cups.
Picture: Paradise Fire in Queets Valley, June 16, via National Park Service