Fuels Management Pays When Wildfire Hits

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge - 2005

On July 20 a human-caused wildfire broke out on the northern boundary of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. A private residence was threatened as flames torched groups of pine trees nearby as well as numerous small trees within 30 feet of the house.

The fire occurred in an area where brush and trees were thinned in 1999 under the National Fire Plan and although the fire was behaving aggressively local fire crews prevented the house from burning as it did not have the suggested defensible space. Had brush and trees along the private property-side of the refuge border been thinned, the fire’s advance would have slowed. As it was, the fire threatened four additional houses along Pine Ridge Lane.

In anticipation of this kind of incident, the refuge in 2001 formed a steering committee in this wildland urban interface community and brought together the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources, Spokane County Fire District #3, and Inland Lands Council. The group identified hazardous fuels that needed to be removed or thinned on specific tracts of land surrounding the refuge and prioritized them so that plans are in place when NFP money becomes available.

The state Department of Natural Resources received funding to produce a community action plan for wildfire prevention/fuels reductions. A final draft of the plan is expected before year’s end. So far 390 acres of private lands with hazardous fuels have been thinned to reduce the chance of destructive crown fires. Ladder fuels (tall vegetation surrounding larger trees that can allow fire to climb) and tree stand densities were reduced to enable quick knockdown and control of a fire with fewer resources.

The steering committee has requested funding for treatment of 200 additional acres in the emphasis area in 2006. These funds would enable contractors to thin stand of pine tree and either chip the trees or burn them later in the winter to reduce hazardous fuel in the urban interface community of Cheney.

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