Firefighters Have Busy Season on Refuges

August 2008

Firefighters from the Mid Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Complex have been unusually busy this season having fought five large fires scattered across the five refuges which make up the complex. Two of those fires, the 262 and 730 Fires, occurred within a week of each other. Fire investigators determine both fires to be human-caused.

After it ignited on July 27, the 262 Fire grew quickly to nearly 6,000 acres before firefighters from the refuge and other federal, state, and local cooperators were able to call the fire out a few days later.

The 730 Fire ignited on August 2. When firefighters responded to the scene, they found a fire moving rapidly through the shrubby vegetation along the edge of the Columbia River. Crews used the refuge fire boat to work the fire. The fire boat is a jet boat outfitted with a pump, fire hose, tools, and other supplies necessary to support fire suppression activities. The incident reached 500 acres before firefighters declared the fire out on August 5.

The Mid Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Complex does not typically have this many large fires occur in one summer. Refuge staff has been stretched to the limits supporting the fire suppression efforts.

“Our refuges typically do not employ a large staff so when a fire starts everyone pitches in,” said Pam Ensley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Fire Management Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Region. “Since these folks have dealt with five fires this season already, our agency has been really strapped to complete all of the behind-the-scenes paperwork necessary to manage a large fire.”

Some of the paperwork includes initiating the process to pay cooperators and partners for assisting in suppressing the fire, and completing land use agreements.
The refuge complex comprises a variety of unique landscapes, is home to numerous resident plants and animals, and provides wintering ground for migrating ducks, geese, swans, and cranes. The wetlands and shoreline bays found in the refuge complex also serve as an important nursery for developing fall Chinook salmon.

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