A Better Season Than We Expected And There Is Something New For Next Season.

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Fire Retardant Drop
DC-10 Dropping Fire Retardant In CA |Photo by Mike McMillan through boingboing.net

We all know about the four seasons of summer, fall, winter, and spring but here in Oregon another season can be more impactful that all of them put together. What I am referring to is the wildfire season. This past fire season I again wrote about the wildfires that were in progress at various times this summer and fall. I’m sure everyone noticed that there wasn’t nearly as much to report this season than over the last few years before it.

The actual number from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is that in this season 923 wildfires occurred on ODF protected land.  The total acreage burned was 16,867 acres which is 56% below average. The season lasted only 99 days, three weeks shorter than the average of 121 days, making it the shortest fire season in this century. We are really grateful that we didn’t have to deal with the acrid smoke that has swept into our cities in years past.

Let’s take a look at this year’s wildfire season as shown in this column.

Oregon Wildfires 7.12.19 | Image by NWCC

A check of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC) Large Fire map on Friday 7/12/19 showed only one large wildfire in the state of Oregon. Here are the details.

The Blue Ridge fire: Located 25 miles southwest of John Day, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 667. The fuel/terrain is timber.  It started on 7/03/19 and the cause is listed as lightning/natural. Residences threatened: 0 single residences, Other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 49 people, 1 crew, 0 helicopters, and 6 engines (updated Saturday 7/13/19). The fire is 99% contained (also updated Saturday 7/13/19). Status: Minimal fire activity with creeping and smoldering fire behavior. Crews continue mop-up operations.

There are currently three large wildfires in Oregon and six large wildfires in Washington State as of Thursday 7.25.19 according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC). The following is the summary of the three Oregon Wildfires.

The Drummond Basin fire: Located 32 miles south of Jordan Valley, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 2,410. The fuel/terrain is grass.  It started on 7/23/19 and the cause is listed as lightning/natural. Residences threatened: 0 other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 25 people, 0 crews, 1 helicopter, and 6 engines. The fire is 95% contained.

The Miller Island fire: Located 2 miles east of Wishram, Washington. The number of acres involved is 900. The fuel/terrain is grass.  It started on 7/23/19 and the cause is listed as lightning/natural. Residences threatened: 0 other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 28 people, 1 crews, 0 helicopter, and 2 engines. The fire is 100% contained.

The Round Butte fire: Located 30 miles south of Burns, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 1,209. The fuel/terrain is Juniper, grass and sagebrush.  It started on 7/22/19 and the cause is listed as lightning/natural. Residences threatened: 0 other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 40 people, 0 crews, 0 helicopters, and 7 engines. The fire is 85% contained.

There is another wildfire that doesn’t qualify to be on the NWCC Large Wildfire map and that fire is near Canyonville. Here is a summary of the details revealed in a story on KPTV.com which I’ve put in a similar format to the NWCC reports.

The Milepost 97 fire: Located off Interstate 5 near milepost 97 in Douglas County, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 150 Thursday 7.25.19 (according to Douglas Forest Protective Association). The fuel/terrain is old growth timber and brush on a steep rocky hillside. It started on 7/22/19 and the cause is listed human caused/an illegal campfire. Residences threatened: 0 other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 90 people, ? crews, multiple helicopters for water drops, and ? engines. The fire is ?% contained.

Oregon/Washington Wildfires 7.25.19 | Image by NWCC

We’ll jump to the next report which was the last one I published for the season.

Oregon-Washington Large Wildfire Map 8.5.19 | Image by NWCC

*The Mile Post 97 fire: Located 1 miles south of Canyonville, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 13,119. The fuel/terrain is timber. It started on 7/24/19 and the cause is listed as human. Residences threatened: 586 other structures threatened: 0 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: 1,326 people, 47 crews, 18 helicopters, and 42 engines. The fire is 55% contained.

*The East Evans Creek fire: Located 10 miles northwest of Sams Valley, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 155. The fuel/terrain is timber, brush.  It started on 8/2/19 and the cause is listed as human. Single Residences threatened: 5 Multiple residences threatened: 5 mixed commercial/residential: 5 Residences damaged: Residences destroyed: 1: Resources being used: 208 people, 6 crews, 7 helicopters, and 13 engines. The fire is 27% contained.

*The McKay Butte fire: No update was available. *The Granite Gulch fire: No summary available.

The wildfire season was busy for all of those involved in fighting and controlling those fires, but it is obvious that it was not nearly as bad as the previous few years. Now what’s new for the firefighters to use for next year’s wildfire season?

What follows is an explanation for the something new phrase in the headline for this article. In journalism what I have done is “bury the lead” meaning I left the most important thing wait until much later in the story. Researchers at Stanford University have developed a fire retardant additive that has an additional function. The cellulose-based gel-like fluid also actually helps to prevent future fires. In an article published in Physics.org (phys.org) by Stanford titled “Researchers develop a gel-like fluid to prevent wildfires” the revolutionary additive was explained. The research was originally published in the September issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Airplane Fire Retardant Drop | Photo by mentalfloss.com

Quoting the phys.org article “Applied to ignition-prone areas, these materials retain their ability to prevent fires throughout the the peak fire season, even after weathering that would sweep away conventional fire retardants. By stopping fires from starting, such treatments can be more effective and less expensive that current firefighting methods.

Eric Appel, Stanford | Photo by news.stanford.edu

Senior author and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, Eric Appel, is quoted as saying “This has the potential to make wildland firefighting much more proactive. What we do now is monitor wildfire-prone areas and wait with baited breath for fires to start, then rush to put them out.”

Grassy Test Area Treated and Untreated Areas | Image by keur.org

Having this new treatment could mean getting a jump on fires that occur in normally fire-prone areas, like highway rest stops, etc. before they even start. The treatment would last through rain, wind, etc. through at least most of the fire season unlike most fire retardants that dissolve away through weathering. What we need is another fire season next year that is similar to this year’s with fewer fires burning less acreage. It will be interesting to see just how well the new additive works.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

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