National Fire Plan
The Cache Mountain fire began with lightning strike on Tuesday, July 23, 2002. It grew to 4,200 acres, burned two homes, threatened 84 more and caused the evacuation of 1,300 residences in the Black Butte Ranch Resort community. The fire occurred on the Deschutes National Forest, Weyerhauser-owned land, and private land within the resort community.
Wildfire near an urban interface is a major concern for land managers. Recognizing this, the Deschutes National Forest, with the support of Central Oregon Fire Management Services, has been actively involved with hazardous fuels reduction for many years. Combined with support from the National Fire Plan and cooperating agencies and communities, hazardous fuels reduction projects made a positive impact on what could have been a very different scenario.
Fuel treatments in the Cache Mountain area were part of the “Highway 20 Project.” In addition, the Forest had partnered with Black Butte Ranch in 1995 to thin, pile and burn small trees within and adjacent to the ranch. The treatments in the stands of Ponderosa Pine around Black Butte Ranch included thinning, hand-piling, mowing and burning. Firefighters used an area of the forest that had been treated as the starting point for a burnout operation that slowed a flank of the fire. The only place where the crown fire entered the ranch development was at the diagonal of a section corner in dense privately-owned, unthinned stands. Even here, thanks to work done in the ranch and excellent coordination between the agencies fighting the fire, 84 threatened homes were saved.
While it is important to note that hazardous fuels reduction does not guarantee safety of communities, the Cache Mountain Fire, as well as others, has shown that treatments both help with the survivability of trees, homes and other values, and aid firefighting efforts.
Hazardous fuels reduction projects are the primary means of reducing the size and intensity of wildfire. The Cache Mountain Fire again showed that active forest management is both successful and necessary.
Treatment leaves a forest area with trees spaced in a manner that curtails the spread of a crown fire. Thinning combined with periodic mowing and/or an understory prescribed burn also diminishes a wildfire’s ability to climb trees to start a crown fire while reducing the intensity of fire burning in ground-level vegetation and other dry fuels. Fire suppression is generally ineffective in crown fires. The goal is to get it to the ground where firefighters, dozers, water and retardant drops, and other efforts can have an effect. Hazardous fuels reduction is a continuous process with different techniques being applied over several years to establish a healthy ecosystem that is resilient to drought, insects and disease, and wildfire.
The other element that played a key role in the success of the Cache Mountain Fire was excellent interagency and community coordination, which included a well-thought out and thorough evacuation plan.
The fire was contained on August 1. An evaluation of the burned area to determine rehabilitation objectives will begin immediately. The hazardous fuels reduction projects benefit private landowners as well as ecosystem health and will aid in the ability to work towards a common goal of sustainable ecosystems, decreased fire suppression costs and prevention of unacceptable loss of valuable property and resources.
While Central Oregon Fire Management Services has been involved in hazard fuels reduction for many years, the National Fire Plan has and will help to ensure that these needed projects are funded and can continue far into the future.