Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Big Windy Fire Report

Big Windy Fire Report: Wildfire on the Wild Rogue
An analysis of fire effects, fire suppression impacts 
and management implications 
A view into the Big Windy Fire, looking down Howard Creek in the Zane Grey Roadless Area
From the introduction to the Big Windy Fire Report: 
On July 26, 2013 lightning crashed down on northern Josephine and southern Douglas Counties in Oregon, starting numerous wildfires in the Cow Creek and Rogue River Watersheds. Three small fires were lit in the tributaries of the Wild & Scenic Rogue River. These three fires—west to east—including the Calvert Peak Fire, the Jenny Fire, and the Big Windy Fire, all burned in relatively remote and inaccessible terrain. In early August 2013 these three fires were declared a “complex” with one extensive fire perimeter; later these fires merged, yet in some places never burned to the officially declared fire perimeter.

The fires, burning low and patchy, were busy doing what fires have always done: they burned fuel, sculpted landscapes, and turned biomass into mineral-rich ash. The fires burned in wild and roadless forest, partially cut, roaded terrain, and in managed plantation stands. One look at the fire severity maps will reveal square, red blocks scattered across the roaded landscape denoting high severity fire effects. These square, red blocks coincide with plantation stands created through clear-cut and heavy shelterwood logging techniques in the decades between the 1950s and 1990s. Another look at the more intact canyons and ridges demonstrates another pattern. Here you see a predominantly low to moderate severity fire with vast areas of unmanaged forest burning in the understory and large areas remaining entirely unburned within the fire perimeter. According to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fire severity map, 90 percent of the Big Windy Fire Area either did not burn at all or burned at low to very low severity. Only one percent of the fire area experienced high severity fire effects, and the majority of this high severity fire is located in previously harvested plantation stands.

The fire would flare up occasionally toward a ridgetop, on a harsh exposure, or when the wind and the canyon lined up just right, making uphill runs. The brush fields, some of the live oak groves on steep gravelly soils, and most of the plantations were torching, while the ancient forests and unmanaged wildlands burned less intensely. The head of the fire smoldered to a stop as it approached more coastally influenced forest, never reaching closer than two miles from the western fireline. With the weather conditions changing and rain falling throughout the fire area, the incident command team began an intrusive and damaging suppression strategy of extensive dozerline surrounding nearly the entire fire area and beyond. On August 5, 2013 firefighting personnel also began a large-scale backburning operation, which included much of the area adjacent to Bear Camp Road and the Mt. Peavine Road. 

The Big Windy Fire at the mouth of Big Windy Creek
Active fire spread came to a halt as the backburning began due to high humidity, low temperatures, and a few days of periodic rain. Backburning operations were also stifled by unfavorable fire weather. Slowly the fire was subdued by weather conditions rather than the efforts of firefighting personnel and agencies, including five days of rain in August and eleven days of rain in September. At a cost of $27 million, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and BLM caused severe damage to the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, the Zane Grey Roadless Area and the widely supported additions to the Wild Rogue Wilderness. They poured money, fire retardant and water buckets on the flames, they bulldozed ridgelines of ancient forest, cut thousands of old-growth trees, and built log decks for the timber industry with emergency firefighting funds. Despite their efforts, it was natural weather conditions that allowed for containment of this fire, not fire suppression efforts. 

Read the entire Big Windy Fire Report

By Luke Ruediger
April, 2014