Dollar Lake fire will ultimately be 'beneficial to the forest'

September 24, 2011

With a crew name like Dust Busters, it's no mystery what Jason Barbee, Braton Jurasevich and Kevin Gehrig are doing with two Pulaskis and trowel.

Miles up a steep trail from the nearest vehicle, the three -- and dozens of others -- were up by sunrise, ready with leather boots, gloves and faces, hiking into the western reaches of the Dollar Lake Fire before most valley residents have had their morning coffee.

Picking away at a charred stump on the steep, rocky edge of Cathedral Ridge, the three - part of a contract crew out of Eugene - search for hotspots that would hardly put up a smoke, but could reignite a fire on a hot windy day.

It's tedious work, and there's nothing easy about it.

"Once the flames are gone, there's still a lot going on that the public doesn't necessarily think about," said Mike Smith, Division-G supervisor trainee. Smith, a Colorado resident, was reassigned to the Dollar Lake Fire after working fires in Texas. "There's still a tremendous amount of important work to do, from clearing gear and pulling miles of hose to rehabbing lines, putting in water bars and the meticulous job of searching for hot spots."

Thursday was Smith's 12th straight day on the fire, and for several days Division G was the frontline of the battle between the 6,000-acre fire pushing west and crews battling to keep it from pushing beyond Cathedral Ridge.

"It took some serious hard work and heads-up firefighting to catch it where we did," Smith said. "I was up here when the fire pushed into the canyon. It spread through the moss and lichen first, torching the tops of trees before the fire ever hit the ground. If it broke over the ridge and ran much more to the west, we would have lost it. We'd be looking at a much bigger beast if that happened.

"This has been a Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde fire," Smith said from a rocky vista on the Mazama Trail. "At times it laid low and was relatively calm; at other times there was extreme and unpredictable fire behavior unlike anything I've ever seen. With the terrain, the views, the fuel and weather conditions, it has been a stunningly beautiful and dauntingly difficult fire to fight."

As it is now, the fire is sized at just over 6,300 acres, about double the size of the Gnarl Ridge Fire of 2008 that burned on the northeast side of Mount Hood. The eastern edge of the Dollar Lake Fire met the western edge of the Gnarl Ridge Fire at the base of Eliot Canyon, creating a ribbon of burnt area around about half of the mountain; from Cathedral Ridge on the west side to Gnarl Ridge on the east.

Although the two fires - both of which burned through August and September - occurred in similar fuel types and similar terrain, the end result is quite different.

Cedar Drake, lead fire effects monitor for the Dollar Lake Fire, evaluated the severity of the burn zone and had the following to say:

"Gnarl Ridge was primarily a high severity wildfire that resulted in near complete canopy mortality along the east flank of Ghost Ridge. This was a stand replacement fire, meaning in essence that the "slate was wiped clean." Forest soils, down to mineral soil, were reduced to ash and ecological succession (the progression of vegetative replacement in disturbed areas from forbs to shrubs to trees) must begin from the most basic levels.

"In comparison, the Dollar Lake fire provides an excellent representation of a mixed severity fire; creating a mosaic pattern of varying fire severity within the burn perimeter. While there are pockets of high intensity stand replacing burned areas, a large portion of the fire is of moderate and low intensity, characterized by 'underburning.' These underburns tend to consume dead and downed material and younger understory trees without significantly affecting the larger canopy trees.

"These types of fires are ecologically significant and beneficial to the forest in that they 'clean out' pockets of diseased and insect-weakened trees and provide valuable 'gaps' in the canopy which increase species biodiversity and provide forage to wildlife.

"Forests in our region have always burned on an irregular schedule dictated by natural factors. Without periodic wildfire forests often become weakened by insects and disease.

"Mixed severity mosaiced wildfires like the Dollar Lake fire provide an important opportunity to maintain the ecological integrity of forested ecosystems."

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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