It's been a tough fire season in parts of Washington State, so when lightning strikes started two fires at Mount Rainier National Park recently, there was plenty of local media interest. As the photo to the left shows, the fire got off to a pretty impressive start, so a section of the popular Wonderland Trail was closed and a fire crew headed into the backcountry.
In some parks, lightning-caused fires in backcountry areas are allowed to burn, but only if a strict set of conditions are met. On the night of August 11, lightning ignited a pair of fires at Mount Rainier National Park. Both were in the backcountry, but one—dubbed the Shadow Lake Fire—was on the far edge of the Sunrise developed area.
Conditions in the area were dry, and in recent weeks large fires in the region had burned over a million acres. Fire-fighting resources were stretched very thin, so the decision for the Shadow Lake fire was a fairly easy one: suppress it.
An initial attack was mounted on the Shadow Lake Fire, but the following evening, Mother Nature took care of this one with a follow-up storm. Firefighters were pulled off the fire due to the danger of more lightning—and heavy rain. By the time the storm ended, 1.7 inches of rain had fallen on the half-acre fire, and the perimeter of the burned area was cold.
The second fire that started on August 11 also proved to be short-lived. According to a park report, "Within three hours of the initial report of smoke from the Scarface West Fire, located near Grand Park, the area received almost two inches of rain. No smoke has been reported since."
If you're a wildland fire fighter, this was a good reminder that even in the midst of a dry spell, a rain poncho can sometimes come in very handy indeed. When you're dealing with natural processes such as weather and wildfires, there are few guarantees...and plenty of surprises.