by: Kevin McCarty Updated:Near Port Orchard, Wash. —
A small stubborn fire burning in dry rotted leaves and wood near Port Orchard may have been sparked months ago and continued burning unnoticed, until residents living nearby saw the air around their neighborhood fill with smoke.
Crews call the phenomenon an underground fire because it burns in duff, the powdery dry layer of leaves, wood and rotted debris that covers the ground in the heavily wooded area east of Port Orchard on Overaa Road.
People living near the fire only realized it was burning on Monday when many awoke to find a layer of smoke hanging in the air. "I thought there was fog early Monday morning until I went out on the deck with my coffee and smelled it and it was definitely smoke," said Tom Bell, who lives on Overaa Road just up the hill from the area where the fire is burning.
Fire crews from a half-dozen departments on the Kitsap Peninsula, King County and Renton worked to build a line around the fire, cutting trees killed by flames that have burned up bark as the flames spread slowly through the duff.
How the fire started isn't known, and crews said they can't even be certain when it started. "Just grapevine, word of mouth is all we've heard that they've possibly been seeing smoke in this area for months," said Lt. Mike Mock with North Kitsap Fire and Rescue.
Crews said they expect to have the fire contained by Tuesday evening but they will continue to check on the area for weeks or even until rainy weather returns in the fall to extinguish the fire completely.
Residents living nearby said they are concerned the fire could spread to their homes if hot, dry weather combines with wind that blowing toward the neighborhood. "Yeah," said Craig Manley, " because if it does travel to the west and gets into this tall timber, there can be some serious problems.