Fire Incident #595 - A Success Story

Fuels Treatment in Central Oregon Leads to Different Wildfire Outcome

Incident #595 was over almost before it started. News reporters didn’t show up and fill their evening programs highlighting suppression efforts and threats to lives and property. Incident #595 was swiftly held at six acres and didn’t even get a name. For all intents and purposes, Incident #595 was insignificant…and for that, it’s remarkable.

History shows us that wildfires burning in Central Oregon can have a very different outcome. In the juniper and shrub-steppe lands northeast of Bend, decades of fuel buildup have led to rapidly moving range fires augmented by crown fires moving through dense juniper stands. For example, in 1996, the Little Cabin fire above Lake Billy Chinook burned 2,437 acres and came within 100 feet of homes.  In 1999, the Elk Drive fire burned 538 acres and came within 1-1/2 miles of the Round Butte subdivision.  And finally, in complete contrast to the outcome of Incident #595, the Eyerly fire roared through thousands of acres and consumed 18 homes in the Three Rivers subdivision.

The difference between the ferocity of the Eyerly fire and Incident #595?

A collaborative fuels treatment, which reduced the potential for a high intensity wildfire on the Crooked River National Grassland next to private property on Round Butte. The fuels treatment thinned and limbed juniper trees. In doing this, fuels specialists decreased the potential for a wildfire to ignite low-hanging branches reduced the ability of a wildfire to spread from tree to tree.

On July 29, 2007, a wildfire touched off by lightning tested the prescription. Fire crews and a Type I helicopter quickly responded, and had the fire contained within four hours of dispatch with no lives or homes lost.

Based on observations and discussions with crews who were on scene, the fire behavior is attributed entirely to the thinning and pruning project. Instead of crowning and spotting as it raced through a near closed-canopy juniper stand, this fire stayed on the ground. Although rates of spread did increase due to higher surface winds and an increase in fine fuels, there was no spottting from the juniper trees and flame lengths were manageable for engines and handtools. The opened, savannah-like juniper overstory allowed the aircraft to drop water directly on the fire, helping to rapidly extinquish the flames. The combined efforts of the fuels treatment and the suppression crews prevented the wildfire from not only destroying lives, property and a nearby power substation, but also from costing the agencies time, money and personnel hours for an extended suppression and rehabilitation effort.