By Lindsay Mohlere
Ihave the pleasure of hosting TimberWest Magazine’s new FireBreak column, which will be dedicated to keeping tabs on wildfire and fire-related news coming out of our region. Additionally, we’ll look at how wildfires impact the Northwest timber industry and discuss some of the important fire issues such as firefighter training, new technology on the fire line, fuel reduction programs, and publically funded benefits for private fallen firefighters.
Fire season usually starts in June and runs through October, but this year we’ve already had two significant wildfires in western Washington State. Both fires were burning west of the Cascades in dry, steep forested land. The Hot Shot fire, near Oso torched 80 acres of private ground that is currently being harvested. Media reports had the fire charging up a slope on the same line as a yarder operation, threatening to destroy a million-dollar forest machine. The other fire was the Proctor Creek 62 Rd fire, which ate up over 300 acres of Washington State DNR land about 60 miles from Seattle. The causes of both fires are under investigation.
It’s unusual to have a fire this early in the year, especially on the west side, but whatever ignited these fires, it’s important to follow best fire prevention practices at all times. While it’s unlikely the weather caused the fires, the dry Northwest weather conditions certainly contributed to them.
I’m not a climate change wonk, but the fire climate in the Northwest sure seems to be getting more acute year after year.
In March, the snow pack in the mountains looked close to normal. After last year, it was a relief to see Shasta, Hood, St. Helen’s, Adams, and Rainier covered in snow. Then April jumped ugly. Record heat. The snowmelt accelerated, taking the snowpack from above average to below in a matter of days.
According to Predictive Services of the National Interagency Fire Center, we’re going to see warmer weather with the precipitation outlook remaining uncertain in the Northwest. Fire danger will rise in June, with the risk of large fires remaining low until the end of June. July and August are expected to be about normal for large, costly fires.
In northern California, wildland fire potential is expected to be normal through June, with wildfire danger increasing in July and August.
Because we had near normal precipitation up until April, fire season is not anticipated to be more active than usual; however, fire danger is expected to reach fire season levels earlier.
A lot of hope is riding on the arrival of La Niña to take the edge off an expected long season. Since we’re riding out an El Niño year, optimistic forecasters expect the transition to La Niña conditions to limit fire danger in the late season.
El Niño is a climate cycle that usually appears in the Pacific Ocean every three to five years. It starts when warm water in the western tropical Pacific Ocean shifts along the equator. Both ocean temperatures and rainfall move east, resulting in below average rainfall and higher temperatures in the Northwest.
La Niña causes the opposite effects of El Niño and research shows that strong El Niño cycles are usually followed by a transition to La Niña. If we get La Niña, we might get lucky. More rain in August and September might take the legs out of fire season.
Firefighter Training Ramping Up
Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and over 300 private wildfire fighting outfits have been gearing up for another long, hot season.
Since most fire crews are made up of seasonal workers, many begin their training regimes in April, with the majority of crews ramping up in May. By the end of June, all crews are usually ready for call-out.
Fighting wildland fires is a tough, often dangerous, job. The young men and women who step up to the challenge and dare to face fire are not the weak of heart.
According to Dillon Sanders, managing director of InBound LLC, a private wildland fire-fighting contractor, individuals who sign on to fight fires “don’t like working in cubicles. They want a different life style. They want the adrenalin rush.”
Because the job at hand is so demanding, the physical fitness and training requirements eliminate many applicants. Only the fittest of the fit will pass.
In our next issue, we’ll hone in on what it takes to grab a Pulaski by the handle and slug it out with the best.
What’s Burning NOW!
There are several prescribed fires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Montana, and Idaho. Spring and winter are usually the prime times for these “controlled burns,” which are used to reduce fuels that could feed potentially dangerous fires.
Below is a list of active and contained Northwest fires as of June 16, 2016.
1. Pony Fire: 2700 acres – Lightening – Klamath National Forest – 15 mi. SW of Happy Camp. Northern California - 20% Contained.
2. Owyhee Canyon Fire: 22,000 acres – Lightening – 1.5 miles south of Rome, Oregon. Vale District BLM. 100% Contained.
3. Akawana Fire: 2000+ acres – Lightening – 13 miles NE of Sisters, OR – Timber, brush, logging slash. Private forestland protected by Oregon Department of Forestry. 80% Contained.
4. The Draw Fire: 497 acres – Lightening – 20 miles NE of Chiloquin, OR. – Ponderosa Pine, Lodge Pole Pine and brush. Winema National Forest. 100% Contained.
(Source: InciWeb, ODF, WA/DNR, NWCC)
That’s a wrap. Stay safe out there!
L. R. Mohlere
On the Cover
Starks Timber Processing out of Puyallup, Washington, operating
one of its Tigercat LS855Cs on steep slopes.
Cedarland Forest Resources helps
private landowners find their niche.
The Reality of Steep Slope Logging
Starks Timber Processing discusses the need for safety when it comes logging
on steep slopes.
Transitioning to the Next Generation
After 35 years, R. L. Smith Logging has
seen is all. The next challenge will be passing the torch.
Wood Castle Fine Hardwood Furniture mills wood to guarantee supply.
Three Questions to Ask Before Buying a Log Loader
How to make the most of your next purchase.
Climbing Steep Slopes with the ClimbMAX
B.C.’s Tolko Industries is the first operation in North America to use a winch-assist forestry machine—the ClimbMAX steep slope harvester.
A look at processing heads.