Barker Canyon Complex Update, Sept. 13, 2012
Incident: Barker Canyon Complex Wildfire
Firefighters are locating and putting out all hot spots at Barker Canyon Complex as they prepare for unstable weather and strong winds Friday
Electric City, Wash., The fires that have been burning in the Barker Canyon Complex northwest of Coulee Dam, Wash., have been fueled by the extremely dry and diverse sagebrush and grass that characterize the high desert landscape of north central Washington. These fuel conditions, when combined with seasonal cold fronts delivering strong winds, result in formidable, rapid-moving fires that stop only at breaks in the topography or in the fuels themselves.
The firefighters at the Complex have been creating some of these breaks this week by burning out fuels ahead of the fire in anticipation of another dry, cold front that started the wildfire in the first place. They are completing the burn-outs, with minimal burn-out activity planned for today. Also, firefighters are looking for hot spots along the control lines and making sure they are dead out before an unstable air mass moves over the area today and increases fire activity.
According to the Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #4 fire weather specialist, Dean Warner, increasing temperatures and the predicted unstable weather will activate any fires burning in the 92,000-acre fire area today. "Smoldering and smoking fuels will come alive in these conditions," Warner said, "and we have to be prepared to deal with the flare-ups and the potential spread of fire beyond our reinforced fire lines."
Nearly 85 firefighters worked until 10 p.m. last night, burning out and strengthening a critical fire line on the steep slope to the Columbia River. Night operations were confident that the fire breaks they prepared last night in the northeast portion of the fire complex will hold back the fire and prevent further spread eastward. Firefighters have been patrolling and suppressing the fire area at night, taking advantage of the cool temperatures. Depending upon the progress made today, night operations may not be needed tonight.
Firefighters were directed at this morning's briefing to be particularly aware of the effects of a cloudless and unstable air mass that causes heat from burning fuels to rise quickly and unexpectedly.
New field measurements, including burnout acreages earlier this week, and accurate GIS mapping increased the total size of the complex to 91,883 acres - 74,834 acres for the North Branch (Leahy) and 17, 049 acres for the South Branch (Barker Canyon). The fire is approximately 20 percent contained.
The total fire acreage is subject to further change with additional field reports and GIS technology being used to refine the accuracy of the count.
The Level 2 evacuation order for the fire area was lifted late in the morning on Wednesday, September 12, 2012. All county roads within the fire area are closed. State Highways 17 and 174 are open.
The objectives for firefighters today are to continue securing fire lines and mop up 500 feet around all existing structures and hot spots throughout the interior of the fire area.
Air resources, including the single-engine air tanker (SEAT) and Type I helicopter assigned to the fire Tuesday, have been assigned to other fires. Regional air support continues to be available to fire operations, should the need arise.
Weather forecasts predict temperatures in the low 80s today. The dry, cured fuels in the Complex are showing very weak moisture recovery overnight, even with the cold evening temperatures. No rain is predicted for the next week, but another dry, cold front is anticipated for Friday, bringing windy conditions again.
The Complex was started by lightning Saturday night, September 8, creating two fires. The Leahy Fire, now the North Branch of the Complex, started 13 miles northwest of Electric City. The Barker Canyon Fire, now the South Branch, burned along the northern shore of Banks Lake and threatened the town of Coulee Dam (population 1,107). The fires were combined into one complex on Monday night.
No firefighter injuries have been reported for the Complex. One burn incident was reported yesterday at the contract kitchen in the Complex's incident command post. Three houses and nine outbuildings were destroyed in the North Branch of the fire.
Firefighting resources that are excess to the needs of the fire, will begin demobilizing today. Firefighters and firefighting equipment, available for reassignment, are being relocated to other high priority fires in the Pacific Northwest.
According to Pat Halford, Operations section chief for the Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #4, today's focus on the fire is "performance-based."
"Our actions today will be in response to what we have done so far, and the effectiveness of all our fire suppression activities to date," he said, "we are aware that our plans can change at any time in response to changing weather and fire conditions, and we are dedicated to adjust to meet the challenges as we continue to suppress and contain this fire."
Fire Facts - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 0900 HOURS
Fire Size: South Branch (Barker Canyon) 17,049 Acres; North Branch (Leahy) 74,834 Acres
- Total Acreage: 91,883
Evacuations: Level II Evacuation Order has been lifted
Percent Contained: 20%
Fuels: Sparse timber, grass/understory/ bitterbrush, sage, slash, snags and down fuels in draws/canyons
Expected Containment: Not determined
Air Resources: Type I helicopter has been released to higher priority fires
Water Tenders: 26
Total Personnel: 315
Total Estimated Cost to Date: $850,000