Firefighting crews are working to protect Twisp River homes
By Ann McCreary
Judy and Jim Harvey watched gratefully as a crew of Nomex-clad firefighters assembled a large plastic water tank next to their hilltop home on Elbow Canyon Road near Twisp last Saturday morning (Aug. 11).
The portable tank holds 1,000 gallons of water to feed a sprinkler system that the firefighters set up along one side of the Harveys’ house to douse dry grasses that could ignite if the Crescent Mountain Fire were to reach their property.
“I’m really amazed at their response. Absolutely amazed,” said Judy Harvey as the firefighters set up a pump, laid hoses and connected sprinklers to protect her home. “They are so organized and thorough. I can’t believe the difference in our stress level, knowing they’re here.”
The Harveys are among hundreds of residents in the Twisp River drainage who have received assistance from dozens of fire crews to protect their homes from the Crescent Mountain Fire, burning on more than 17,000 acres of heavily forested land in the upper part of the Twisp River drainage.
The wildfire, started by lightning on July 29, has given fire managers a gift of sorts — time. As the wildfire has burned its way down the Twisp River drainage over the past two weeks, fire crews have had the luxury of putting many long, hot hours of work into preparing homes and other structures for the potential arrival of the fire.
As of Tuesday (Aug. 14) the fire was being held at a fire line on War Creek, about 1.7 miles from the nearest residence. A Level 2 evacuation (prepare to leave) remained in effect for residents living west of Little Bridge Creek Road.
Using the time
“We have the advantage of time,” said Andrew Myhra, a supervisor trainee with Division A, a sprawling area including Twisp and Winthrop, designated by the Crescent Mountain Fire Incident Management Team. Myhra was working last weekend to help homeowners along Twisp River Road and in the Poorman Creek area to make their homes as safe as possible.
“We’re prioritizing where the fire would hit first. We’re creating defensible space, using Firewise methods,” he said. Crews were clearing brush, limbing trees, setting up hose lines. “You’ll see a lot of sprinklers,” Myhra said. Six engines, with crews of two to four people each, were working along Twisp River Road and Poorman Creek areas last weekend, Myhra said.
The process involves on-site assessments of properties and homes by firefighters, said Russell Hubright, a public information officer with the Incident Management Team. During the last week or so, plastic ribbons with information written on them about the needs of various properties began appearing attached to mailboxes and fences in front of houses visited by firefighters. The colors of the ribbons have no significance, he noted.
Crews had finished up their structure protection work along the Twisp River drainage to the town of Twisp by Tuesday and were maintaining the sprinkler systems they’d put in place, Hubright said.
The Incident Management Team has developed a database of homes that could be at risk, and information about what each property needs, and what has been done, to make it more defensible. The database means that the information will be readily available even when management of the fire changes to a new team, Hubright said. After initial assessment, crews developed a game plan for each property and began showing up at homes to begin structure protection.
One of those firefighting crews, DB Jet Enterprises from Boise, Idaho, was busy at the Harvey’s home Saturday morning. The three-member crew set up a bright yellow plastic “drop tank” near the house. A Bureau of Land Management water truck soon drove up the driveway and filled the tank.
A pump set up next to the tank pulls water out and propels it into hoses that the crew laid around the perimeter of the house. Crew members attached sprinklers at strategic spots along the hose line, and then the crew gave the system a test run. The pump was cranky — sputtering and refusing to start after repeated attempts.
“Alright, let’s work this thing through,” said Brannen Carter, operations manager for DB Jet Enterprises. “These things come from a [firefighting supply] cache but they’re not always perfect.” The crew brainstormed the problem, attacked the pump with tools, and finally got it roaring to life.
Powerful streams of water sprayed the dry grasses and brought smiles to the firefighters and the Harveys. “I’m really amazed at all the work they put into it,” Jim Harvey said. “They are doing the right thing.”
Carter said his crew was visiting six to eight properties a day to do fire preparation work, and crews in Division A had installed about 20 drop tanks in a single day last week.
After finishing their job at the Harveys’ home, the crew began working to extend another hose line to an adjacent property and set up a sprinkler near brushy area that posed a potential fire risk to the nearby home.
Over the past week, the Harveys have had at least three visits from firefighters, Judy said Monday (Aug. 13). “We are just so thankful, knowing they are doing this for so many people,” she said. “In fact, I made cookies yesterday morning. When they come back they’re going to get cookies. They will have to come back and get their equipment. Hopefully I’ll catch up with them.”
James Kratochvil, an Oregon resident who works with Carter, said the gratitude — and cookies — from the people they help is appreciated. “You’ll see signs saying, ‘Thank you firefighters.’ It means a lot,” he said.
“It’s a life of service,” said Carter, a career firefighter. “There’s no such thing as a rich firefighter. But we are rich.”
Fire preparedness help
Methow Ready has placed brochures about fire preparedness at several locations around the valley. They are “How to Have a Firewise Home,” which illustrates wildfire preparedness steps for the home; and Methow Ready’s “Disaster & Emergency Handbook,” which outlines steps for family preparedness, including checklists for packing your “go kit” if you have to evacuate, and a list of safety and emergency phone numbers and websites that are useful for more information.
In Twisp, the brochures are available at Aero Methow Rescue Service, the post office, the visitor information center in the Methow Valley Community Center, and Town Hall. In Winthrop, they can be found at Town Hall, the visitor center and the post office. The brochures are also available at the Carlton post office and will soon be available in Mazama.
For information, call (509) 846-5701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.