Photo by Don Nelson
Trees cut during firefighting efforts will be sold by the U.S. Forest Service.

Incident team turns management over to Forest Service

Smoke is still lingering in the lower valley and creating periods of unhealthy air, but other evidence of the wildfires that stole much of the Methow Valley’s summer is fading away.

The huge incident command post at the Blues Ranch near Winthrop, which supported about 1,300 people and firefighting equipment during the peak of wildfires a few weeks ago, has been packed up and hauled away.

Fire is still creeping and smoldering in areas of the Crescent Mountain and McCleod Fires, and local residents can expect to see smoke plumes and occasional tree torching when temperatures warm up in the afternoons, until a “season-ending” rain or snow arrives, fire managers said.

The southern end of the Crescent Fire is expected to continue moving slowly “throughout the next month or so” through heavy fuels in drainages near Hoodoo Peak, said Barry Shullanberger, operations section chief for the Pacific Northwest Team 2.

“It’s actually doing some good. It’s slowly chewing up the ground fuels in there and doing a really nice job,” he said in an update before the team’s departure.

Fire management was transferred from the Pacific Northwest Type 1 team to the Methow Valley Ranger District on Monday (Sept. 24), and 30 people were assigned to the fire as of early this week. The fires will continue to be monitored through the fall.

As firefighters increased containment of the fires during the past three weeks, aided by cooler and moister weather, attention turned to other pressing work — repairing more than 160 miles of fire lines constructed to prevent the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires from advancing on residential areas.

Those lines, dug down to bare dirt by heavy equipment or hand crews, are at risk of erosion and runoff when wet weather arrives.

Sense of urgency

Fire managers have been working on repairing fire lines with “a sense of urgency” said Kale Casey, a public information officer with the Pacific Northwest 2 team. “End-of-the-season rains could be here any day,” Casey said. “If we have a deluge we don’t want steep bulldozer lines wide open for water to run down, carrying sediment into creeks and streams, potentially taking out culverts and potentially taking out forest roads that cost millions of dollars to repair.”

Over the past two weeks, fire crews that were previously digging the lines began working to restore them as much as possible to their pre-fire condition, working with heavy equipment and hand tools. Trees and vegetation that were cut while creating the lines were hauled away or chipped, water bars were dug into the lines to divert and slow water runoff, and brush was placed over the lines to protect and reinforce them.

Most of the line repairs were completed by the Pacific Northwest 2 team before it left, although primary fire lines built to contain the McLeod Fire south of Sunshine Creek were left in place in case they might be needed for the existing fire, or future fires.

Thousands of trees were cut to create the fire lines and are being hauled out of the forest and stacked in log decks at several locations outside the fire perimeters in preparation for selling the wood.

“There are multiple decks of wood from the fires,” said Holly Krake, a public information officer with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “We intend to make that available. Most of it will be commercial, including firewood.”

Forest officials estimate that about 1,700 CCF (hundred cubic feet) of wood will be available for sale. One CCF is equal to about one cord of wood.

The Forest Service was advertising its first log deck sales, called Goat Creek and McLeod, this week on its website. “Our intent is to have advertisements for all in the next few weeks,” Krake said.

The Forest Service will also be “looking for opportunities to make smaller piles, mostly along roads, available for firewood cutting,” Krake said. “Lots of folks in the Methow Valley and across Central Washington heat with wood, and we want to make opportunities available.”

She advised local residents to check with the Methow Valley Ranger District to find out when and where those firewood cutting opportunities will occur.

BAER team starts

A Burned Area Emergency Response Team (BAER) was scheduled to begin work this week in the McLeod and Crescent Mountain fire areas to assess the burn severity and damage to soils caused by the fires, and the potential for erosion and runoff.

The team will conduct field work over the next couple of weeks and produce a report on downstream impacts to Forest Service land, as well as state and private land. The report will recommend measures to help communities and property owners prepare for potential mudslides and flooding. Information on the BAER process is available at centralwashingtonfirerecovery.info.

Numerous road and trail closures remain in place in areas impacted by the fires. Fire officials advise contacting the Methow Valley Ranger District about the status of trails and road before going into those areas.

The Pacific Crest Trail was still closed from Harts Pass to Woody Pass early this week due to the Holman Fire, burning in wilderness but holding at about 300 acres. A detour was in place for hikers.

The Crescent Mountain Fire was considered 86 percent contained early this week and had burned 52,609 acres. The McLeod Fire was 91 percent contained and had burned 24,411 acres. Altogether, the fires have burned 77,020 acres, or about 120 square miles.

Fire creeps and smolders in steep terrain near Sunshine Peak above Lost River gorge in the McLeod Fire, which will continued to be monitored by helicopter.

Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
The incident command post at the Blues Ranch near Winthrop, which has hosted thousands of personnel from five different incident management teams since early August, was dismantled earlier this week.