Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Well Watched Wildfire



I’ve been on a long hiatus, haven’t I!  But life is good, just busy. Plus at this time of year most of our ‘discoveries’ involve insects and I don’t want my bug blogs to wear out their welcome.  The subject for this blog has been building over the past couple of weeks, and then a couple of days ago we got photos to go with it.

Note: Dale retired from the Umpqua National Forest and we still live slightly west of the forest.  The Umpqua National Forest is 983,129 acres – larger than Rhode Island.  It rises up to the high Cascades. 

It is fire season in Oregon.  It a guarantee we’ll have some wildfires during Oregon’s summer.  Whether it will be a bad season or not varies from year to year.  Until a couple of weeks ago we were subjected to smoke from out of state fires, especially British Columbia.  Oregon stayed relatively calm – our forest, the Umpqua National Forest stayed relatively calm.

In late July lightening started a fire on the western edge of Crater Lake National Park.  We had planned to be up there for the full moon, but ended up cancelling our reservation.  Some days the Crater Lake web cam up there showed we couldn’t even see the far side of the lake.

In early August a nasty heat wave hit Oregon, plus there were a few high county lightening storms.  I thought it was pretty bad when 15 fires were started on the Umpqua National Forest last Tuesday.    But that was just the beginning.  By yesterday the news was reporting 75 active wildfires on the Umpqua National Forest plus ’52 additional smokes’ – that sounds like more fires to me.  The pity of it is we don’t have anywhere near enough manpower to fight all these fires.  Priority is given to fires near structures, and a great many fires are unmanned! 
Two days ago, Friday, we headed upriver, on Highway 138, to the Umpqua National Forest, not realizing fire season has started in earnest.  Not far into the forest we spotted this smoke high on a slope and on the other side of the river – small enough we felt comfortable continuing on to were we planned to photograph insects that day. 
Spotter plane is in the upper right -- hard to see because of the smoke.
We did pause along the highway long enough to take a few photographs of the fire and to see a ‘spotter plane’ fly over – a plane that searches for fires.  In early years most spotting was done from fire towers, but now planes do most of the spotting. 
Note the bucket of water the helicopter is carrying.
We spent about 5 hours ‘bugging’ a few miles farther upstream.   No sign of a fire near us but we were very away that helicopters were carrying buckets of water to a fire somewhere nearby …. And probably not to the fire we had driven past. 

When we came back out onto the highway we realized more was going on than we realized.  ‘Road Closed’ signs were already parked next to the highway, but not yet in use.  That didn’t bode well. 

No sign of fresh smoke until we got back down to Fall Creek, the area where we spotted smoke this morning.  The smoke was pouring out of the old growth forest and obviously inching its way down the slope towards the river.  Still no sign of anyone fighting the fire! 

We parked in the logical parking area at Fall Creek trailhead and started taking more photos.  Soon officials from the Umpqua National Forest, the State Police, the County Sheriff’s Department, and even the Oregon Department of Transportation turned up.  Lots of talking and watching, but still no fire suppression.  We leaned the slope is considered too steep to put a ground crew on and all the helicopters were in service elsewhere.  Basically all they could do is wait and watch …. And be ready to close the highway if necessary.  There are four houses in the area and they had already been put on alert.  I’m not sure if they were on Level 1 (get ready) or Level 2 (Be ready to level on a moment’s notice).  When Level 3 is called, people must leave immediately. 
Mostly we watched smoke from a ground fire pour out of old growth forest.

For a while watched it inch up a dry exposed slope,
occasionally flaring up when it hit dry fuel.

When we headed home, the fire was well watched, but still no sign of helicopters.

Update:  As of this morning the fire we watched is still burning, but hasn’t crossed the highway.  The other fire near highway 138, near Dry Creek Store, has triggered an evacuation notice.