Evacuation notice drops to Level 1 for Mazama, Rendezvous
By Ann McCreary
What a difference a week makes — at least when it comes to the Diamond Creek Fire.
Last Wednesday (Sept. 13), many Methow Valley residents were anxious after being notified that areas of Mazama, Lost River and the Rendezvous were placed on Level 2 evacuation alert (be prepared to leave) due to the increased activity of the Diamond Creek Fire. About 200 people attended a community meeting that day in Mazama for an update on the fire.
This week, after much-needed cool and moist weather arrived, the evacuation notice has been reduced to Level 1 and the fire activity has moderated. The fire’s southern flank is about 11 miles north of Mazama.
Okanogan County emergency managers announced the lower evacuation level on Monday (Sept. 18) after Sunday brought a change in the hot, dry and periodically windy conditions that have fed the wildfire for nearly two months.
The fire had burned about 99,000 acres in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest as of Tuesday, and an additional 30,000 acres in Canada. Diamond Creek is almost twice the size of the next largest fire — Norse Peak at about 56,000 — in Washington state. The Diamond Creek Fire was expected to continue to burn slowly, despite the cooler weather, in heavy fuels in the Monument Creek and Pat Creek drainages, the areas of the fire that have been of greatest concern recently.
“Those two areas that we’ve been keeping an eye on are staying put,” said Katy Hooper, a public information officer for the Diamond Creek Fire.
Fire managers on Monday stopped the helicopter bucket drops that have been used for about two weeks to cool the fire in Pat Creek to prevent it from spreading toward the Goat Creek drainage, where it could travel south toward Mazama.
Primary and contingency fire lines were completed Monday and will remain in place, said Hooper. “If we don’t use the lines this go-around, and we hope we don’t, those could be there if there’s a need in the future.”
Firefighters created a fire line extending from the Yellowjacket Sno-Park in Lost River north to Setting Sun and McLeod mountains.
Although the weather system that moved in Sunday did not bring as much precipitation as predicted, the cooler weather has slowed the fire, Hooper said. The weather is predicted to remain fairly cool, with highs in the mid-60s, through the rest of the week.
The moderating fire behavior allowed some areas that have been closed on the east and west sides of fire to be reopened Monday for public use. On the west side, Hart’s Pass Road, Robinson Creek and Middle Fork of the Pasayten River are open.
On the east side of the fire, Falls Creek, Black Lake, the lower section of Andrews Creek and the Chewuch 510 trail to the confluence of Basin Creek were also opened.
The 294 total personnel assigned to the fire are expected to remain in place for the near future, said Hooper. Fire crews were turning their attention toward fire suppression repairs, such as piling logs and branches that were cut to make fire lines and repairing culverts and roads damaged in the fire suppression work.
A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team from the Forest Service began work this week to identify risks of erosion and assess threats to human life and safety. The BAER team will determine where water and erosion control measures should be implemented, and where warning signs or barriers are needed.
“When a landscape has changed drastically due to a wildfire like this, erosion is a huge issue,” said Beth Kenna, public information officer.
The fire is being managed by a National Incident Management Team that arrived last Thursday (Sept. 14). The team is not restricted to a two-week limit like other incident management teams, and could remain in place as long as necessary.
There were 10 fire crews, 11 engines, three helicopters and four bulldozers assigned to the fire as of Tuesday.
The fire was first reported on July 23 in the Diamond Creek drainage. Eight smokejumpers and a 20-person crew were assigned to initial attack, but were unable to contain the fire. Burnout operations were conducted on the north part of the fire during the first couple of weeks to try to prevent the fire from entering Canada, but the fire crossed the border on Aug. 29. The fire is considered human-caused and is under investigation.
With no measurable rain since June 10, forests have become exceptionally dry, accelerating the fire growth and spread. More resources became available for the Diamond Creek Fire after snow fell last week in the Rocky Mountains, helping slow huge fires in that area.