Forum Index > Public Lands Stewardship > A letter from my friend Ray Kresek about fires around Chelan. Your thoughts?
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lookout bob
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PostSun Jul 24, 2022 7:24 am 
64 years of Chelan Fires This week we’ve been hearing about Washington’s first big wildfire of the year, the 1,200 acre Stayman Fire, on the back side of Chelan Butte. I’m told a DC-10 airtanker with its 12,000 gallon payload of retardant helped squash that one. Go back 64 years to 1958, same week, to the biggest fire in Washington that year. A house burned 4 miles west of the Stayman Fire, in Navarre Coulee. The DNR was but 1 year old; a new super agency grown out of the State Division of Forestry. I arrived alone, as state fire warden; the only firefighter on the payroll in the only fire truck to protect 450 square miles of wildland both directions from the town of Chelan. The mid-afternoon fire was already climbing the mountain beyond the reach of the hose on my fire truck. When a half dozen Seattle tourists headed home from Lake Chelan stopped to watch, I handed them shovels and told them to start up the hill tossing dirt; hopped back in my truck and drove away, to the top of Davis Canyon where its only resident and I met 20 local co-op firefighters who chased the fire up the hill. We corralled it at 600 acres near the edge of the Chelan National Forest. No city or county fire trucks, no aircraft, not even the USFS. Just a bunch of co-ops who grabbed tools from a fire cache, and came when called. We worked all night, alongside Griff Williams, the Eastern Washington Supervisor, who had seen the smoke on his way to Omak or Colville on other DNR business. At dawn, Griff sent me to town to buy lunches for the crew, while he continued to supervise mop-up operations. That’s how we did it back in the ‘50s. Fast forward to the same week 36 years later to 1994. Another lightning strike set a small fire in the early evening up Tyee Canyon 12 miles further west. Upon arrival, the initial attack crew was told to stand by at the highway because it was getting dark and it meant a hike up a steep hillside. By dawn they still awaited orders to hike up to the now 35 acre fire. Three hours later the Tyee Fire blew up, burned 140,300 acres and destroyed 94 homes and cabins between the Entiat River and Chelan. 376 Engines, 18 water tenders, 28 bulldozers, 9 helicopters, 4 heavy airtankers, and 2,776 people, including those on city fire trucks from Spokane, Seattle, and a half dozen other cities finally brought the Tyee Fire under control a month later. It was the first statewide disaster mobilization. It cost $50,000,000 to fight and rehab. Today that cost would be triple or more. No trees burned in this year’s Stayman Fire. They had already burned, along with all those on both sides of Lake Chelan and half of the Okanogan and Methow country in the past few years of big fires nearly every summer. A landscape changed for a lifetime. Global warming? Smokey Bear did too good a job preventing wildfires? What do you think? Ray Kresek

"Altitude is its own reward" John Jerome ( from "On Mountains")

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PostTue Jul 26, 2022 4:32 pm 
I think this is an entirely different era, and yes, it has to do with climate change. All fire agencies and the DNR will tell you that. It is also likely that the significance of global warming is understated in current models. This is because secondary effects like Methane release in the Arctic cannot yet be predicted with any degree of accuracy. As to fires: While in the past putting out fires has lessened the resiliency of forests, this is a different era. Fire repression these days needs to be nuanced with respect to the severity of forest fuels at any point in time. You can let a fire burn and burn itself out when forest fuels are not too dry. But take the same approach during drought conditions in mid-summer and the likely result are devastating wildfires of potentially immense size. The classic example for me was the 2015 Wolverine Fire. When it first started by lightning above Lake Chelan, but in very dry conditions, the fire remained small (ca. 50 acres) and could have been easily contained for something like the first four days. It was not, and erupted in high winds (forecast) and destroyed much of the Entiat, and eventually threatened Holden and Lucerne at considerable fire fighting cost. That probably could have been avoided. Some of these fires burn very hot and are devastating, destroying even root systems of trees and plants below the soil line. A recent view of the Norse Peak fire shows much of the burned area burned very hot and are not yet green. There are very few pockets of a mosaic-like burn. Forest management makes sense, but primarily in places where people might go or where property might be threatened. In the US 90% of fires are human caused. So thinning and clearing brush along roads, etc. makes good sense.

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jimmymac
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PostTue Aug 02, 2022 9:14 am 
Thanks for posting his perspective. Nearly always, a threat that needs to be contained poses a risk to those who would intervene - be it an advancing fire in steep terrain or an active shooter in a shopping mall. Today, the dynamic tension that naturally exists between protecting staff and containing a threat, often seems to err on the side of risk management. The public (think juries) has little tolerance for an agency supervisor who would earn an L&I violation or even vary from published standards. Engaging untrained motorists and residents in combating a wildfire might well be the only way to have kept a small fire small in 1958. But in today's environment, an enterprising employee "making things happen" can put his or her agency and personal finances at risk. In an effort to "do things right" (correctly apply best practices) staff focus is not always on "doing the right thing" (achieving the best outcome.) An instructor I knew, once shouted to the class in a mischevious whisper, "You all know that the root of all evil is the Incident Command System, right?" There are probably many widows and trial lawyers who would not appreciate the irony captured in that quip.

"Profound serenity is the product of unfaltering Trust and heightened vulnerability."

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PostWed Aug 03, 2022 5:29 am 
Ray was dope smoking heavily back then

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belowfellow
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PostWed Aug 03, 2022 10:37 am 
Thank you for posting this.

"Wilderness is bliss"

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PostWed Aug 03, 2022 11:29 am 
up.gif

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PostWed Aug 10, 2022 1:14 pm 
I know and respect Ray and his long experience with the fire suppression culture, but, this isn't the sort of question that can be resolved by a discussion. You may (probably do) have an opinion on wildfire, but why and how we have the current fire regimes, as well as how we got here and where we are going, have been studied extensively in a data-rich environment. With wildfire (like climate change) there is not much divergence between the scientific conclusions, although the scientists are still finding plenty of details to argue about. Briefly: 1. The long history of fire suppression, which has filled many of our forests with astronomical amounts of small dry fuels, has set the stage for huge, high-severity fires. This is why, for instance, over 50% of the Okanogan has already burned in the 21st century. 2. Climate change has led to significant increases in summer temperature and corresponding decreases in summer precipitation, which in combination means that "fire weather" conditions now occur for at least part of every summer, whereas in most of the 20th century they were only seen at intervals of years. The hot, dry summers also reduce the speed and effectiveness of forest regrowth. This situation is projected to become much worse during the rest of the 21st century, likely resulting in substantial reductions in forest cover within Washington. For instance, climate projections indicate most of the area currently covered by Douglas-fir will not be suitable for that species by 2100. It will be limited to higher elevations and wetter sites. 3. There is still huge variability in the system because Washington has so many types of ecosystems where fire is important, from Olympics rainforests to semidesert grasslands. And, also there is great variability because wildfire is by nature capricious, with intensity that varies greatly depending on weather, fuels, and other reasons still poorly understood. So, everyone's personal experience of wildfire is different, and this is part of why there is so much disagreement on this topic. If anyone wants to go into it further, I have a large bibliography of research on various aspects of the problem. Most of those publications are freely available online, though not always easy to find.

Anne Elk, RichP, Cyclopath  Lindsay
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PostThu Aug 11, 2022 9:28 am 
Thanks for your insight.

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treeswarper
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PostFri Aug 26, 2022 7:13 am 
I have wondered about some of the posts on a local facebook group. A few years ago, after a thunderstorm had moved through, there were posts about smokes. One was similar to this: There is a smoke near such and such road. We phoned in about it and have been watching it for two hours and nobody has come to take care of it and it is getting bigger. My brain immediately thought, why didn't you grab a shovel if it was so close and take care of it? Of course, the caller could have been unwell or unable to walk a bit. We've become a society of phone and let somebody else take care of it. I do not advocate going back to the days of pulling men out of bars to go on fire crews as used to be done. I would say that the biggest squash of decision making were the lawsuits after the 30 mile fatalities--not climate change. Another big factor that nobody seems to mention--roads. During the 50s and 60s roads were constructed with fire control in mind. Now decommissioning is in style and access by road is quite limited. Sometimes, a road can be reopened, but that takes time and the fire is large by then. It is also frustrating to be an old geezer and read "crews were not put on the fire due to steep terrain" in an area where you've worked on those same slopes doing timber work and then slash burning--with stuff rolling down the hill sometimes. Maybe we were stupid back then? Maybe the vegetation belays are gone? Different times now. On the other hand, do it yourself firefighting runs into the problem of no communications. There have been some close calls with "backfires" being lit below legitimate fire fighters. It's a mess. My former coworkers and I always say we are glad we don't have to go to fires anymore.

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PostFri Aug 26, 2022 7:49 am 
Also when the fires get big alot of the USFS roads get fixed, brushed etc. Like what happened in the Uno fire in the Methow. The Grade cr road was krap before all the sudden it's improved alot. Now the Sears creek fire all the sudden brush is cut back and chipped, stumps ground, etc. I don't believe that is not taken into their thought process. On that same Sears and Poe fire there was lightning strikes afterwards on Cady Ridge and above White River road. They dropped water and rappelled hot shot crews to knock it down. Could this have been done on Sears and Poe? There's a fire up Black canyon in the Methow and it was attacked quickly. Maybe a different plan of of attack by each Ranger District or by the DNR?

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PostSat Aug 27, 2022 7:41 am 
DrScience wrote:
climate projections indicate most of the area currently covered by Douglas-fir will not be suitable for that species by 2100. It will be limited to higher elevations and wetter sites.
I would read that study if you post a link. During the Holocene Thermal Maximum, circa 5K years ago in our area, Puget Sound contained vast forests of Ponderosa pine, and oak savannah was common as well. Only small remnants remain of the pine forests at the driest sites, mostly at Fort Lewis and near Sequim. There were apparently also areas of coastal sage scrub, which is now only found south of the Bay area in California. There would have been extensive Douglas fir forests above the pine belt. It isn't warm enough yet for the pines to come back to the west side, you will know it is time when Fort Lewis burns the way the Okanogan has.

Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir

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PostSat Aug 27, 2022 7:52 am 
treeswarper wrote:
It's a mess.
And in large part, we made it that way. And it's going to remain a mess for at least another half a century until the excess fuel load currently laying on the ground (or the "dog hair" stands on plantation units) are consumed by flame. The global warming/climate change thing has been a significant contributing factor (notwithstanding those who would argue such things do not exist) but it was the "all fires out by noon tomorrow" policy that was the catalyst for the conditions which exist currently.

"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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treeswarper
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PostSat Aug 27, 2022 8:04 am 
Ski wrote:
treeswarper wrote:
It's a mess.
And in large part, we made it that way. And it's going to remain a mess for at least another half a century until the excess fuel load currently laying on the ground (or the "dog hair" stands on plantation units) are consumed by flame. The global warming/climate change thing has been a significant contributing factor (notwithstanding those who would argue such things do not exist) but it was the "all fires out by noon tomorrow" policy that was the catalyst for the conditions which exist currently.
I am not disputing that it is warmer and hotter. I have lived here most of my life and notice this. I do dispute that the warming is the only reason for the fires. It is a combination of things that got us here. I did not mention budget cuts, which are also part of the picture. The old Randle Ranger District could send out 3 full 20 person crews in the 1980s. Multiply that by the other districts Packwood, Wind River, etc. plus engineer centers. If you worked in the field, you were fire crew fodder , even if your specialty was wildlife or recreation. That is no longer the case. Budget cutting and consolidation massively reduced employees. Add this to the other bits--like road decommissioning, hotter dryer temps, overstocked stands, bugs etc.

What's especially fun about sock puppets is that you can make each one unique and individual, so that they each have special characters. And they don't have to be human––animals and aliens are great possibilities

Anne Elk
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treeswarper
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PostSat Aug 27, 2022 8:10 am 
An interesting factoid about Ponderosa Pine on the west side--There are still a few in Dallas, OR. The early settlers cleared most out and turned the land into farms. They call it Willamette Pine. I bought a few at a Weyco seedling sale in Rochester and planted them in Randle. They were doing well when I moved. They may be a tree that will be suitable for the warmer temps over there. Apparently Weyco might think so as they were growing seedlings in their nursery.

What's especially fun about sock puppets is that you can make each one unique and individual, so that they each have special characters. And they don't have to be human––animals and aliens are great possibilities
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PostSat Aug 27, 2022 8:21 am 
^ "Global warming/climate change" is definitely not the sole cause of current conditions. As you've noted, there's a litany of "reasons". When the climate changes, the endemic flora will change along with it. Last time there was a big "climate change" thing here on the west coast, the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) came into being along the coast. Up until about 4500 years ago it didn't exist around here. So yes, it will be interesting to see what other species move in as those less tolerant of warmer and drier conditions fade out. Of course, we'll all be gone by that time, but it's fun to imagine things like Plumeria blooming along 101 out near Forks. wink.gif

"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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