September 30, 2012 0900 Update
Incident: Cascade Creek Wildfire
Fire wakes up last night and so does operations branch chief
Wind and a significant drop in humidity brings smoldering fires to life along the northwestern flank of the Cascade Creek Fire last night, burning about 600 acres
Trout Lake, Wash., At about 1 in the morning, Pat Halford, branch operations chief for the Cascade Creek Fire got a call on his cell phone while sleeping in his tent. The night operations crews working in the Cascade Creek Fire were reporting that the fire had come alive. The fire had been sleeping - slowly creeping - for the past several days through the understory in the northwest section of the fire area. Around midnight, winds picked up to 20 mph and relative humidity dropped significantly, waking up the fire and sending it spreading westward along a ridge top and southward into a creek drainage flowing into the White Salmon River.
Halford immediately drove to meet with the night crew and assessed the fire that he estimated grew to over 100 acres by 4 a.m., sending a significant amount of smoke into the valleys below. By 7 a.m., the newly-burned area was estimated at 600 acres. The fire has not burned west of the Wilderness boundary, ten miles north of Trout Lake, Wash. Forest Road 23, a primary travel route between Trout Lake and Randle, Wash., has been prepared as a contingency fire line and remains open at this time. However, this Forest Road will be busy with firefighting activity along the travel corridor.
Operations specialists are looking at the fire in the drainage to the east of FR 23 this morning and determining whether or not to begin burning out fuels along the 070 Road, another prepared contingency line east of the paved road. Firefighters are being diverted from other areas along the perimeter of the fire where they have been mopping up inside fire lines and rehabilitating impacts of firefighting on roads, fences, creeks and other natural resources.
Air attack resources today stand ready to help decrease fire activity with retardant and water drops throughout the active fire along the northwest perimeter. Winds are expected to remain fairly strong today with gusts 10 to 15 miles per hour this morning. The fuel-drying influence of a thermal belt over the area and a lack of precipitation for the past two months put exposed ridge tops at risk of extreme fire behavior. Humidity levels measured at points throughout the fire area are fluctuating greatly, depending upon wind velocity and inversion influence.
Fire operations and planning specialists are preparing for a strong low pressure front from the north that is expected to arrive by Tuesday bringing with it much lower temperatures and strong winds gusting to 40 miles per hour. Fire behavior specialist Dean Warner said that the colder weather will help the firefighting effort, but bring little or no needed precipitation. He said the winds will push the fire to the south and southwest toward fire lines that have been strengthened by firefighters over the past two weeks.
Winds last night also increased fire behavior throughout the more than 16,000-acre fire, igniting unburned fuels into tall flames that could be seen by night crews. The fire was estimated to be 63 percent contained yesterday.
Firefighting crews are continuing to mop up small spot fires along the northeast fire perimeter and to within 75-100 feet inside the primary fire line along the southeast, south and southwest flanks of the fire. Firefighting equipment is being removed from these areas as rehabilitation work continues. Rehabilitation repairs the impact of the fire suppression effort itself and involves grading roads that were used in the operation, piling remaining slash, removing some trees burned in firing operations, and preparing excellent maps of the sites of particularly intense activity such as helispots or portable water tanks. Fire lines and newly-opened roads may need to have water bars constructed. Fences may require repair. A burned area rehabilitation team is now in place to assess long term needs for rehabilitation of the fire area.
Hazardous trees and snags continue to be a significant concern along roads and fire lines where people are working. Dead trees can fall unpredictably. Branches with green needles may hide decayed trunks or burned roots that are no longer able to support a tree's weight. Firefighters, who are trained and frequently cautioned to avoid trees that are hazardous, have been assisted by six falling teams that continue to be busy removing dangerous tree hazards where they are needed to provide for firefighter safety.
Approximately 500 cattle are being moved from summer pastures near the fire area to a cow camp, from which they will be moved on to winter locations. The ranchers who are involved have been in close communication with fire managers who want to ensure that they can safely conduct their work, even with an active wildfire burning nearby.
There will be a public meeting on Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. to provide an update on the fire situation, outlook, and strategies. It will occur in the gymnasium at Jonah Ministries, 31 Little Mountain Road, Trout Lake, Wash.
Fire Facts - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 0900 HOURS
Fire Size: 15,678 acres (plus approximately 600 acres in fire area growth last night, exact acreage not determined)
Percent Contained: 63%
Fuels: Heavy, bug-killed timber, litter and understory
Expected Containment: Not determined
Air Resources: Two of each of the following: Light, medium and heavy helicopters; two air attack platforms
Firefighting Crews: 12
Water Tenders: 12
Total Personnel: 467
Total Estimated Cost to Date: $10,053,992