Pre-Planning Helps Catch the Kathy’s Pond Fire

August 2008

When lightning ignited the Kathy’s Pond Fire on July 1, 2008, firefighters from Mid Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge, along with other cooperating agencies, got an opportunity to test the effectiveness of a fuel break. The break was created in 2004 by clearing vegetation that could potentially fuel a wildfire. Gusty, erratic winds from a thunderstorm pushed the fire directly toward homes that fuel break was designed to protect. Hot, dry weather made the fire situation even more dangerous.

Fortunately for the local residents, firefighters were able to use the fuel break to stop the flames from overtaking their homes, and held the fire at 527 acres. Reducing flammable vegetation in advance can slow or stop fire from moving in a given direction, and reduce the fire intensity. This safety measure exposes firefighters to less heat and fewer flames, and allows for more direct attack.

Fire managers on the refuge had identified this as an area of concern due to the amount of flammable vegetation close to private property and homes. Starting in 2004, fire crews began a cycle of clearance and annual maintenance for the area. A dense stand of Russian olive, dead cottonwood, and black locust trees were cut and piled. Other dead vegetation was also removed and added to the piles. When weather conditions allowed, the piles were burned.  The refuge also plows a disc line along the border each year to provide additional protection to adjacent homes and property. 

The entire hazardous fuels reduction project encompassed about eight acres and was cost-effective at around $9,000.00. In this case, being proactive likely prevented damage to homes, reduced risk to firefighters and reduced firefighting costs by providing firefighters a safe place from which to attack the spreading flames.

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