Monitoring of Crescent Mountain, McLeod fires will continue as needed
Crews using heavy equipment are focusing on repairing more than 160 miles of fire lines created in the fight to keep the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires from advancing on residential areas.
Called “suppression repair,” the effort involves restoring land that has been disrupted by heavy equipment and firefighters using hand tools to remove trees and vegetation over the past two months.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to repair,” said Joe Tone with the Pacific Northwest 2 Incident Management Team. “We are going out to repair everything we put in and put the land back as it was as much as possible.”
The suppression repair seeks to mitigate man-made damage and reduce the risk of runoff and impacts to streams and rivers, Tone said.
On the McLeod Fire, repairs were underway on 22 miles of bulldozer lines, 15 miles of hand lines and 38 miles of roads. On the Crescent Mountain Fire, crews were working to restore 37 miles of bulldozer lines, 18 miles of hand lines and 30.5 miles of roads.
Eight excavators, along with bulldozers, skidders, logging trucks, hotshot crews and engine crews, were working on both fires to conduct repairs, Tone said. Logging trucks were hauling out trees cut down for fire lines that can be sold by the U.S. Forest Service for lumber. Wood that is not suitable for lumber may be made available for firewood, Chris Furr, Methow Valley District ranger, said at a public meeting Monday (Sept. 17) at the Winthrop Barn.
Fire lines established to hold the McLeod Fire near Sunshine Creek and Lost River drainage will remain in place and won’t be repaired immediately, Tone said. That area continues to be active, and the lines will be available “just in case you have one of those drier falls … as a protection factor for the community.”
Fire managers were monitoring the Sunshine Creek and Lost River drainage area on the McLeod Fire, and the southwest flank of the Crescent Mountain Fire near Mission Peak early this week. They were using helicopters with buckets to drop water if needed to keep the fires in check.
Fire officials said those two active areas of the fires can be expected to continue creeping and smoldering, and sending up plumes of smoke, until a significant “season-ending” rain or snow arrives.
The Pacific Northwest 2 team is the fourth Type 1 Incident Management Team to oversee the McLeod and Crescent Mountain fires. Type 1 teams are the most highly trained and staffed Incident Management Teams and are called in to manage the most complex wildfires. The team will hand management over to a Type 3 team made up of mostly local Forest Service officials within a few days.
“Our goal is to leave them with as manageable a package as possible” when the incident is passed on to the next team, said Jennifer Berger, a public information officer with Pacific Northwest Team 2. “We should have a good idea in the next three days what that transfer of command looks like and how many resources would be left at that point,” Berger said on Tuesday (Sept. 18).
Public information officers with the Pacific Northwest team, who have been providing daily video briefings on the Crescent Mountain Fire Facebook page and written updates on the Inciweb site, have been warning that the flow of information about the fires will soon diminish as the team prepares to leave. Furr told people at the public meeting Monday that the district “will not be able to keep up the level of information you’ve been getting.”
Many roads and trails remain closed as a result of the fires, or due to continued fire-related traffic during fire suppression repair. Twisp River Road at the Buttermilk Road intersection, and Libby Creek Road at Hornet Draw continued to be closed to all but local traffic early this week. Forest Service officials said they will be evaluating conditions to determine when closures on roads and trails can be lifted. They advise people to check with the Methow Valley Ranger District office before heading out onto Forest Service land.
The Pacific Crest Trail was closed from Harts Pass north to Woody Pass, due to the Holman Fire, a 300-acre fire that is burning in the wilderness but not growing in size. A detour has been developed for hikers to continue on to the Canadian border.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest announced on Sept. 17 that forest users are once again allowed to have campfires in approved campfire rings within designated recreation sites outside of the Crescent Mountain, McLeod and Holman fire closure areas.
Cooler, damper weather in the past two weeks helped fire managers get control lines around the fires. As a result, the number of people and equipment on the fires has been dropping steadily, from a high of about 1,300 people in the first week of September, when the fires were considered the top priority wildfire incident in the nation, to less than 500 at the beginning of this week.
The Crescent Mountain Fire has burned 51,975 acres and the McLeod Fire has burned 22,898 acres — a total of 74,873 acres or almost 117 square miles. The Crescent Mountain Fire, ignited by lightning on July 29, was 75 percent contained and the McLeod Fire, ignited by lightning on Aug. 11, was 86 percent contained as of early this week.
A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team is expected to begin post-fire assessments of the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires next Tuesday (Sept. 25). A team of soil scientists, geologists, hydrologists and other experts will evaluate burn severity and damage to soils caused by the fires, and the potential for runoff and erosion.
The team will conduct field work for about two weeks and produce a report that will be available to the public. The study will evaluate downstream impacts on Forest Service land, as well as state and private land, to help communities and property owners prepare for potential mudslides and flooding.
The BAER report may suggest emergency stabilization measures like culverts, mulching, trail and road drainage improvements. Information on the BAER process is available at centralwashingtonfirerecovry.info.