By Marcy Stamper
A spot fire from the Crescent Mountain Fire escaped the fire line along War Creek – evading even a sprinkler system – and got into dead timber, burning higher on the ridge, producing a huge plume of smoke on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 16).
Because the new growth moves the fire further down the Twisp River drainage, emergency managers issued a Level 3 (leave immediately) evacuation for west of the Buttermilk Creek intersection with Twisp River Road at noon on Friday. Level 2 evacuations (be ready to leave) are in effect starting at Little Bridge Creek Road.
Fire crews tried to extinguish the new fire but weren’t successful, said Jon Wallace, operations section chief for the Southern Area Red Type 1 team, in a Friday-morning briefing.
The fire team also used helicopters to try to control the spread, but all aircraft and ground crews had to be pulled off the fire for safety.
As of Friday morning, it was still too smoky to do an infrared flight to determine on which ridge – either Black or Snowshoe Ridge – the fire is burning. The fire team expects to have assistance from the military later on Friday to do an infrared flight, said Wallace.
Fire managers are looking at contingency lines on Scaffold Ridge constructed with bulldozers to keep the fire from moving further down the Twisp River drainage. There are a series of ridges in the mountains, with War Creek the furthest west, followed by Black Ridge, Snowshoe Ridge and Buttermilk Ridge, which is closest to settled areas in the upper Twisp River drainage. The ridges run mainly from the southwest to northeast.
Fire crews will be transferred back to Scaffold Ridge from other areas of the fire. Crews already laid sprinkler lines along those fire lines and will check the pumps on Friday to be sure everything is working, said Wallace.
The fire had been held at War Creek for about a week since crews burned out fuel between the fire lines they constructed and the main part of the fire. Firefighters also installed 2.6 miles of hoses and sprinklers to catch fires started by rocks and other debris that have been rolling down the steep slopes.
There are rocky scree slopes higher on the ridge that may also help slow the progress of the blaze, said Wallace.
A fire line along Slate Creek, in the northern part of the fire, held on Thursday and overnight with help from hand crews and helicopter water drops, said Wallace.
Fire managers hope the smoke will clear enough on Friday to allow helicopter water drops, said Russell Hubright, a public information officer for the fire.
The Crescent Mountain Fire grew by almost 1,600 acres on Thursday, bringing it to approximately 19,500, or more than 30 square miles. The fire was described as 37-percent contained on Thursday, the maximum they could achieve because the rest of the perimeter is inaccessible.
Without an accurate perimeter that includes the new growth, the current containment can’t be calculated, said Hubright.
The Crescent Mountain Fire is burning about 20 miles west of Twisp. Twisp River Road is closed 8 miles west of town.
The McLeod Fire, burning in the mountains about 8 miles north of Mazama, more than doubled in size on Thursday, with most growth in the wilderness and some new activity, moving down Goat Peak toward Eightmile Road, said Wallace.
Fuels treatments, prescribed burning and thinning in the Eightmile area will help keep the fire in check, he said.
Fire activity was moderate enough that firefighters were able to work on the McLeod Fire all day, extinguishing spot fires and strengthening fire lines.
On Friday, crews plan to prep Eightmile Road with hose lays so that they can be prepared to gradually burn out small sections of the ridge as the fire moves down the slope, said Wallace. That fire line will extend to Sweetgrass Ridge, as will another line being constructed from the Yellowjacket Sno-Park. They are using a lot of fire lines constructed for the 2017 Diamond Creek Fire.
A fire crew worked overnight on Thursday (Aug. 16) to burn out fuels on Sweetgrass Ridge where there is a radio repeater, and that area will be expanded in burnouts on Friday night, said Wallace.
Removing fuel and having those fire lines in place “starts to build a catcher’s mitt for that fire as it moves down toward that Sweetgrass Ridge,” said Wallace.
Fire managers plan to prep lower roads and burn out areas to meet the main fire higher on the ridge, said Wallace.
There is no containment on the McLeod Fire.
Friday is expected to be another active day on both fires, with upslope winds in the afternoon. Although smoke can limit the ability to use aircraft, it keeps a lid on fire activity, said Hubright. When the smoky inversion lifts, it creates air movement. “That thing torched up – there’s so much heat that all it takes is a little breeze and that thing really takes off,” he said.
The Southern Area Red team is transitioning to another Type 1 management team, the Southern Area Blue team, on Saturday morning.