Fire has shaped Mount Rainier's landscape for thousands of years, and is important for the survival of many plants and animals. Naturally ignited wildland fires are beneficial to the park ecosystem, removing dead wood accumulation and recycling nutrients back into the soil. Most fires at Mount Rainier are suppressed but the park Fire Management Plan allows select fires to be managed to benefit the park's ecosystem.
The park's primary fire management goal is to return fire as a natural ecosystem process. Equally important are protecting life and property. The safety of firefighters and the public is always the highest priority during any firefighting activity.
Twin Firs Fire - The Twin Firs Fire was started by a lightning strike on Friday morning, August 25, 2023, and burned approximately half an acre in old growth forest about 1200 feet north of the park’s Nisqually Road between Kautz Creek and the Twin Firs Trail. As of August 29, the fire was declared contained. News Release, 8/29/23
Past Wildland Fires
2018 Cowlitz Peak Fire - Called in by hikers on the Wonderland Trail at mid-day on August 9, 2018, as a small 1/2 acre fire on the north aspect of Cowlitz Peak. Unknown start date, may have been from storm on July 28. Aerial recon on August 15 found the fire still under 1 acre. Better coordinates for fire determined it to be at about 3700 feet on the north-facing aspect of Cowlitz Peak above the Ohanapecosh River. On August 24 a DNR helicopter was able to recon, and reported fire behavior as creeping, while an IR flight on September 1 detected 0.1 acres of detectable heat. Believed the fire was backing slowly down the slope, with the only heat/smoke production coming from the head of the fire. Firefighters walked the perimeter of this fire on September 10. There was only heat on the edges, particularly the lower lobe. Flame heights of 3-6 inches. Total area approximately 5 acres. As of September 28, the Cowlitz Peak Fire was still putting up a small amount of smoke (smoke was visible from Hwy 123 at about milepost 9.5.) and was expected to do so until there was a solid stretch of rain or snow in the winter.
2018 Fan Lake Fire - Discovered July 30, 2018, probably same ignition date as Spooky Tree. Near a ridge top at 5200 feet, west of the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz, with smoke column visible from Box Canyon Overlook. This fire first showed up on satellite infra-red (IR) after increase in fire behavior on August 21. On the 24th a DNR helicopter was able to recon, and reported fire behavior as backing and creeping, total size approximately 20-30 acres. An IR flight on August 25 put the fire size at 15 acres total, not including the scree slopes and unburned fuels surrounding the fire. Cool off in early September speculated to be due in part to discontinuous fuels, relatively high live-fuel moistures, and a lack of both continuously low relative humidities and sustained east winds. Declared out on September 16, 2018.
2018 Spooky Tree Fire - On the Cowlitz Divide, just off the Wonderland Trail, about 1/4 mile north of the WT/Cowlitz Divide trail junction. Lightning start on July 28, 2018, approx. 40' X 20'. Suppression actions taken July 29 and 30, fire in patrol status for several weeks before being declared out on August 20, 2018.
2017 Norse Peak Fire - Thirteen fires were ignited by lightning on August 10 and 11, 2017, in the vicinity of the William O. Douglas and Norse Peak Wilderness Areas on the Naches Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The fires burned in steep rocky terrain, with difficult access. Two of the fires reached significant size: the Norse Peak Fire (north of State Route 410 (SR410) near Union Creek) and the American Fire (between SR410 and Bumping Lake).
Haze from Wildfire Smoke
The Longmire meadow along the Trail of the Shadows on July 13, 2018.
Credit: NPS Photo
The Longmire meadow obscured by haze on August 14, 2018.
Credit: NPS Photo
Even distant fires can impact the park. Slide the arrows either direction to see how haze from wildfire smoke affects visibility and air quality.