By Chris Furr
I want to express my thanks to the Methow Valley for your support this summer. It was a long fire season, but once again the residents of this valley have shown their resilience and dedication as they responded to evacuations, smoke, and area closures. This was an extremely successful season given conditions, the early start, and the threat of fire to three of our valley communities.
Priorities were to keep fire out of our communities and to provide for safety of our first responders and public. We achieved those goals and are proud of the work that was done. We were fortunate to host multiple highly skilled incident management teams made up of personnel with many years of experience managing complex fires across the West. The level of skill and patience of the teams this year was remarkable, as the successful outcomes show.
I also want to acknowledge questions about tree removal that occurred during fire suppression efforts. Trees were felled to construct containment lines for both the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek 2 fires. Questions after the fact are understandable and are how we learn and improve moving forward, but it is important to recognize the information we had at the time and look back without the bias of hindsight.
On Aug. 5, a decision was made to take action along the Twisp River Road to protect the community of Twisp and surrounding residences if the Cedar Creek Fire moved past natural barriers on Abernathy Ridge and towards homes in the Twisp River drainage. In early August temperatures had been around the 90s for multiple weeks and fuel conditions were extremely dry. There were still at least eight weeks of active fire season ahead of us, during which fuels would continue to dry out, the fire was expected to grow, and there was potential for new starts.
Right decision at the time
We had seen increased fire progression to the southeast towards Twisp and there were limited control features between the fire and the community to aid fire suppression efforts. When slope and wind align as they can in the Twisp River drainage, fire can and has spread miles in a single operational period. The location of the fireline in the Twisp River drainage was specifically identified to address this very real risk. I am thankful that weather conditions improved in mid-August and that we never had to use this line, but it was the right decision to make given the conditions we faced at the time.
The trees removed for the Twisp River fireline were mostly small-diameter ladder fuels. There were also larger-diameter snags felled as part of that operation. Snags pose a significant hazard to firefighters if they fall unexpectedly, and they can impede suppression efforts if burning snags fall across a containment line. Firefighters must make on-the-spot decisions to mitigate these risks while also minimizing impacts to resources. As the District Ranger, I support their decisions to ensure safe working conditions.
Fighting fire is as much about the preparation we do in the offseason as it is the suppression actions taken during a fire. We have a lot of work ahead to continue improving forest health through thinning and fuels treatments, reintroduce good fire through prescribed burning and work across boundaries to further prepare our communities for wildland fires.
Thank you again for showing the strength of this community during a trying summer. I look forward to continued engagement as we move forward with Twisp Restoration, prescribed fire, forest restoration and fire recovery actions into the future.
Chris Furr is Methow Valley District Ranger.