Did you see smoke east of Lake Whatcom Saturday? Here's what authorities say caused it

Fire damaged two spots along this popular trail near Lake Whatcom on Saturday

Fire damage can be seen along Hertz Trail in Lake Whatcom Park on Tuesday, May 29, in Bellingham.
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Fire damage can be seen along Hertz Trail in Lake Whatcom Park on Tuesday, May 29, in Bellingham.

A pair of fires Saturday afternoon scorched approximately a tenth of an acre of land in Lake Whatcom Park. Though the fires are believed to be human caused, authorities say they are still investigating whether the fires were deliberately set.

The fires are being called the Northshore One and Two fires, according to Department of Natural Resources public information officer Janet Pearce, and they are being treated as one fire. They were reported at approximately 1:30 p.m. near the Hertz Trail just past the second trailhead near the east shore of Lake Whatcom.

The trail has since reopened to hikers.

"We're monitoring the area now, but we're seeing zero heat and smoke," Pearce said. "We know there was no lightning in the area, so they are human caused."

Crews are still investigating the cause, Pearce said, as they get "deep into the bowels" of the burn area and get a more in-depth look at the area.

A number of social media posts over the weekend attributed the cause of the fire to arson, but Pearce said, "I haven't heard anything about arson, and hopefully it was an accidental cause."

The Whatcom County Fire Marshal is working with DNR to determine the origin and cause of the fires, fire investigator Mitch Nolze said, examining the scene and interviewing people who were in the area.

"The cause is still undetermined," Nolze said. "We know there were multiple fire starts, and we're looking into suspicious causes, but we're still trying to determine what caused them."

The area has not received more than a quarter of an inch of rain since April 16, according to National Weather Service data, and dry weather is expected until the weekend. With those conditions, Pearce cautioned hikers and campers to be extra vigilant when they're outdoors.

"What's important, if you see smoke ... please call 911 right away," she said. "It's OK if it's a false alarm — we'd rather have a false alarm than have someone not report something."

If you do start a campfire, Pearce also asks to make sure it is completely extinguished — to the point you can touch the coals with your hand — to ensure the wind doesn't kick up embers once you leave the area.