PENDLETON, Ore. (September 20, 2021) — Proactive hazardous fuel treatments on the Pomeroy Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest were instrumental in changing fire behavior and slowing the advance of the Lick Creek Fire, which burned approximately 80,421 acres. These treated acres were critical in providing fire managers suppression options, which kept the wildfire shorter in duration, less costly, safer for firefighters, and reduced the severity of the burn in treated areas.
The thinning treatments happened over the course of a decade and were designed to protect infrastructure on the District (such as campgrounds or recreation residences) and to make the landscape more resilient to large-scale disturbances like wildfires, insects and disease by reducing fuels in strategic locations and in areas that historically experienced low severity fires. Overall, within the surrounding fire area, the Pomeroy Ranger District has treated more than 35,000 acres, including 78 million board feet (MMBF) of timber harvest sold and approximately 27,000 acres of prescribed burning.
On July 7, 2021, multiple new fires were reported in Asotin County following widespread thunderstorms with no precipitation after an extended period of record-breaking drought conditions in June. Several new starts were reported southwest of Asotin, Washington and grew rapidly due to hot and dry conditions and strong afternoon winds. Two of the fires (Lick Creek Fire and Dry Gulch Fire) burned together and a third fire (Silcott Fire) spread toward the community of Asotin, prompting multiple evacuations. Over the next several days, wind shifts pushed the Lick Creek Fire to the south and southwest, with parts of the fire burning into previously treated areas along Forest Service Road (FSR) 42, Iron Springs to the west and Forest Service Road 43, Cloverland Road to the east. Once the fire burned into the treated areas, the fire behavior moderated, reducing flame lengths and allowing firefighters time to safely and effectively stop the fire’s spread using the strategically located fuels treatments along ridges and roads as control lines.
The hazardous fuel treatments represent numerous vegetation management projects that have been completed on the Pomeroy Ranger District over the years. For example, treatments along Forest Service Road (FSR) 42 were completed as part of the Upper Charley Subwatershed Ecosystem Restoration Project (Upper Charley)- to reduce fuels and the risks of stand replacing wildfire to the area. The project treated 6,900 acres, including 4,600 acres of prescribed burning and 25 MMBF of timber sold from three timber sales (Charley Timber Sale, which was completed in 2003; Sweeny Timber Sale, which was implemented in 2008; and Big Fir Timber Sale). Prior to treatment, the project areas consisted of dense, overstocked mixed conifer stands loaded with dead and down fuels. After the treatments were completed, the stands were open and more resilient.
Fuel treatments like those in the Upper Charley project were implemented across much of the Lick Creek Fire’s footprint. In many areas, treatments effectively moderated fire behavior and reduced the time required to prepare roads for use as control lines. In addition to providing more opportunities for firefighters to safely engage and contain the fire, the fire thinned out the underbrush, small trees and shrubs, while leaving many of the large trees still intact. The Lick Creek Fire was declared 100% contained on Aug. 27.
Active management is an important part of creating a resilient landscape that has the capacity to resist or recover from disturbances, including wildfire. Fuel treatments are not a guarantee of this success, but areas that are treated tend to burn at a lower severity, improving the likelihood that, even if a fire burns through an area, the Forest will recover more effectively from the wildfire. Additionally, these types of treatments can increase options for fire managers and firefighters to safely engage a fire and support local infrastructure, which in turn facilitates future active land management.
The Forest will continue to monitor treatment activities and benefits from the Lick Creek Fire utilizing an interagency system called Fuel Treatment Effectiveness Monitoring (FTEM). This learning tool allows agencies to better understand the effects of fuels reduction projects on wildfires across the landscape so we can tailor future treatments to further increase the forests resiliency to natural disturbance.
For more information about the Lick Creek Fire, please visit: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7615/. For more information about projects on the Umatilla National Forest, please visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/umatilla/.
The latest fire information will be posted on the Blue Mountains Fire Information Blog. To receive updates on fires in the Blue Mountains, follow our blog at http://bluemountainfireinfo.blogspot.com/.