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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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

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

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gb
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gb
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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.

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

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

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"Wilderness is bliss"

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timberghost
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PostWed Aug 03, 2022 11:29 am 
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Forum Index > Public Lands Stewardship > A letter from my friend Ray Kresek about fires around Chelan.  Your thoughts?
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