Firefighters make good progress, weather cooperates
The Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires were moving into demobilization mode early this week, although fire crews were continuing to strengthen fire lines and aircraft were providing water and retardant drops in a few active parts of the fires.
Only a week ago, the fires were considered the top priority wildfires in the nation and as a result, incident managers were able to boost their firefighting arsenal with additional crews, equipment and aircraft. With the arrival of cooler, wetter weather during the past week, and the enhanced firefighting capacity, fire managers made significant progress on containing the fires.
“Things are looking so good we’re sending people home, or to other incidents where they are needed,” Kimberly Nelson, a public information officer for the fires, said Tuesday (Sept. 11). The number of personnel assigned to the fires had dropped from almost 1,300 last week to about 870 this week. As of Tuesday, the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires were ranked the third priority wildfires in the nation, she said.
Incident managers were focused on a couple of areas on the fires that still presented some concerns. The McLeod Fire continued to be active in the Sunshine Creek and Lost River Gorge areas early this week, but appeared to be slowing any progress south toward Mazama.
On Sunday and Monday, fire managers used four heavy air tankers and one very large air tanker, as well as helicopters, to drop retardant on a ridgeline above the Sunshine Creek drainage to create a fire line to try to keep that part of the fire in check, said Brandon Cichowski, operations section chief for the Northern Rockies Type 1 team.
A contingency line was also completed further south in the Yellowjacket area and was being prepared to conduct burning if necessary, he said.
Mission Peak controlled
The Mission Peak area on the east flank of the Crescent Fire was the most active area of that fire over the past week, but firefighters completed a burnout over the weekend east of Mission Peak using ground crews and helicopters, and by Tuesday achieved “a solid control line around the Mission Peak area,” said Mike Granger, operations section chief.
A contingency control line was completed from the Libby and Gold Creek drainages to Foggy Dew in case the fire were to move that direction. Granger described the line as a “shaded fuel break … along these roads the fuel has been thinned, but we have maintained some tree canopy there,” he said. Crews were chipping material from vegetation and trees along the line, he said.
Two small fires that were started by lightning between North Fork Libby Creek and South Fork Libby Creek on the evening of Sept. 7 were suppressed by smokejumpers and helicopters. One of the fires involved a single tree, and the other was held to about one-half acre, Cichowski said.
No evacuations were in place as of Tuesday, after evacuation levels were lifted Saturday morning (Sept. 8) in parts of the Twisp River and Libby Creek drainages.
Mop-up and fire suppression repair was taking place this week on both fires. Fire crews were transitioning from fighting fire to rehabilitating areas damaged during fire suppression, Nelson said. Logs and debris from constructing fire lines were being hauled away and crews were placing vegetation on lines and creating water bars “to give the soil some protection from rains later in the fall,” Cichowski said.
BAER report next
The Forest Service was beginning post-fire assessments this week in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including the Crescent Mountain, McLeod, Miriam and Cougar Creek fires. A team of soil scientists, hydrologists and other experts were conducting burned area emergency response (BAER) studies to evaluate potential for runoff and erosion after the fires.
“Even as firefighting continues on some portions of these fires, we’re starting burned area emergency response in others,” said Molly Hanson, BAER coordinator for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
More than 120,000 acres burned on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest this year to date. BAER studies focus on human life and safety concerns related to potential downstream impacts to communities like Twisp. In areas that burned with high intensity, soils are damaged and unable to absorb water, potentially producing runoff and erosion downstream.
Emergency stabilization work may include installation of erosion control devices, mulching, and road or trail drainage improvements. The Forest Service works with other federal, state, county and local agencies to help private landowners prepare for potential mudslides and flooding. Information on the BAER process is available at centralwashingtonfirerecovery.info.
Water pumps, hoses and portable water tanks have been removed from residences along the Twisp River Road as a result of the reduced fire activity. The sprinkler systems were placed at hundreds of homes in the Twisp River area in early August when the Crescent Mountain Fire was threatening homes in the Twisp River drainage.
A new Type 1 incident management team, the Pacific Northwest Team 2, arrived this week and was scheduled to assume management of the fire on Thursday (Sept. 13), replacing the Northern Rockies Type 1 team. The Pacific Northwest team is the fifth incident management team on the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires.
As of Tuesday, the Crescent Mountain Fire, started by lighting on July 29, had burned 51,363 acres and was 39 percent contained. The McLeod Fire, started by lightning Aug. 11, had burned 22,743 acres. The two fires have burned a total of 74,106 acres or almost 116 square miles.
Crescent Mountain had 618 people assigned to it, and McLeod had 255, a total of 873. That’s about 400 fewer people than were on the fires a week ago.
Fire managers have also been monitoring the Holman Fire, burning in the Pasayten wilderness about 19 miles northwest of Mazama. The fire ignited by lighting on Aug. 16 and has held at about 300 acres. It forced closure of the Pacific Crest Trail, although a detour was developed to allow hikers to continue north to the terminus of the trail.
Numerous trails and roads on the national forest in remained closed this week due to the fires. Roads were still closed to all but local residents on Twisp River Road west the Buttermilk Road intersection, and on Libby Creek at Hornet Draw, due to fire vehicles on those roads.