You’d think the huge fires burning around the state would stop people from having illegal backcountry fires. You’d assume that the fire ban covering all of Washington State would be a deterrent for a fire at your camp during the night. You’d assume that people would be responsible in nature and be good stewards. Sadly, you’d be wrong.
As with the entire universe, the hiking population of Washington State has good elements and bad elements. On August 25th, a local hiker became the positive yin to someone’s negative yang in a remote section of the Olympic Peninsula wilderness. Located near the eastern base of Mount Cruiser in the Olympic Mountain Range, Mildred Lakes is a hiking destination that few hike, thanks largely to the tough terrain and remote location. Situated in the heart of the Mount Skokomish Wilderness of Olympic National Forest, Mildred Lakes is an ideal spot for solitude, excellent fishing and stunning views. It is not a location where you would want a forest fire to burn.
Erik , a Pacific Northwest hiker, was enjoying the day out in the wilderness with his dog. He had previously been on the fence about hiking to Mildred Lakes, as the trail can be a long slog for many. As he hiked to the remote lakes in the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, he was was shocked to discover a fire burning at the furthest lake in the Mildred Lakes region. From across the lake, smoke could be seen rising from the forest and Erik sprung into action.
He would later say that what he did is nothing more than any of us would have done, and perhaps he was right. Yet, his actions saved what could have potentially been a bad situation. After seeing the smoke, Erik rushed over to where the fire was burning and found a smoldering hole against a stump. There was no flame visible, but the bright red embers stood out sharply against the forest floor. The nearest road was 4.4 miles away, with the nearest area for cell phone service another 30 minutes or so from the trailhead. Instead of running down the trail, hoping for help, Erik did what needed to be done.
Over the next two hours, he used every container he had and hauled water from the lake up to the fire location. As daylight started to fade and the fire out as best he could do, he left for his car with his dog, both exhausted. As he got to the trailhead, he took down the names of everyone registered at the trailhead and called the Department of Natural Resources to make them aware of the fire, giving them GPS information on the exact location of the burn. To the best of his knowledge, the fire was out. As you can see, it wouldn’t have taken much to have this fire get out of control fast.
The message Erik wants to be known about his actions isn’t what he did, but that he had to do it in the first place. The State of Washington is in the middle of the worst drought in history. There are 30+ wildfires burning all around the state, from Okanogan to the Queets Rainforest, from Spokane to Mount Adams and out to the coast. There is, and has been a burn ban statewide, and that needs to be followed. This fire was more than likely not caused by lightning, as no lightning strikes have been registered in the area for weeks.
If someone did indeed cause this fire, it is yet another reminder that we need to be vigilant in being good stewards of the land. We all have a duty to uphold in protecting and preserving wilderness and nature, and if we see someone breaking rules, we need to tell them.
Above all, remember the messages from Smokey the Bear we all grew up with:
Thank you Erik, for the pictures, the story, and for putting out the fire at Mildred Lakes. You rock.