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Fuels Treatment Leads to Firefighting Success

Pike County Peak Lookout
Pike County Peak Lookout

Pike County Peak Lookout

Release Date – 10/4/06

At 11:00am on Friday, September 22nd, an arcing power line caused a fire on Soper-Wheeler’s property on Weiss Hill, near Forbestown.  The small, white column of smoke, first called in by Pike County lookout, was immediately influenced by 30-40mph easterly winds on what was one of the only red-flag warning days during the month of September.  Fire resources were immediately dispatched to the scene from as far away as Washington Ridge in Nevada County to help attack the fire.  These included 10 engines, 2 air tankers, 1 helicopter, 2 dozers, 2 hand crews and 4 water tenders.  All in all, 75 personnel were dispatched to the fire, with additional resources staging on LaPorte Road.

Initially, the fire burned fairly hot in a small patch of heavy tanoak, sending hot embers into the air and causing several spot-fires to ignite, despite repeated air drops of water and retardant on the main fire.  Within a few hours however, and to the satisfaction of many of the gathered residents, this fire’s intensity began to subside, due in large part to the fact that it’s location was completely surrounded by Soper-Wheeler’s recent fuel treatment in the area. 

The fuels treatment, done during 2003 and 2004, included commercial harvesting, biomass thinning and firewood cutting, resulting in the modification of forest fuels which would not sustain a crown fire, even during the red flag wind conditions.  Given the lack of fuel, crews were able to achieve full containment to 3 acres by 6:00pm that evening.  According to Incident Commander Joe Hernandez – “what should have been a 7 day fire with mandatory evacuations became a 9 hour fire with no evacuations and no loss of homes in the area.”  Hernandez attributes this to the “excellent fuel treatments” conducted by the timber company – specifically designed to reduce the fire danger in what was previously an overgrown, tightly-spaced thicket of younger, fire-prone vegetation.

Soper-Wheeler’s fuels treatment thinned out individual trees, removed dead, dying, diseased and defective trees, and reduced the fuel loads on the forest floor – similar to what a natural fire regime might achieve over decades of regular, low-intensity fire occurrence.  Even with the heavy winds, the modified fuels and tree-crown spacing kept the fire on the ground and decreased the fire’s intensity and rate of spread, so that the fire resources could quickly contain the fire before blowing up into something which could have had devastating effects on the ecosystem and the lives of those who live in the area.

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