It's So Dry Even America's Old Growth Rainforests Are on Fire

Illustration for article titled Its So Dry Even Americas Old Growth Rainforests Are on Fire

The season of terrible drought and fire keeps getting worse. 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.

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Currently covering over 1,200 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.

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Illustration for article titled Its So Dry Even Americas Old Growth Rainforests Are on Fire

Image via: 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’ll be much easier for the winds to blow the fire from place to place.

So, if you were planning a hike in Queets this summer, you miiight just want to reschedule until further notice. At the very least, be sure to bring plenty of tubs and cups.

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[Seattle Times]

Contact the author at maddie.stone@gizmodo.com or follow her on Twitter.

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Top image: Paradise Fire in Queets Valley, June 16, via National Park Service

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DISCUSSION

special_k_side
special_k_side

We have been seeing this a lot in BC Canada over the past 30 odd years of intense fire control. Unless it is endangering life limb and property, let it burn! It will get rid of the detritus on the forest floor? Aspen, White Birch, White Pole and Jack Pine trees need a fire for their seeds to fall out and then grow in the uncluttered ground.

IMHO, why do governments pay to stop forest fires when the above criteria is not met? Oh yeah, Stumpage fees. :-(