Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Community Wildfire Protection Plan comes to Pateros

Posted

PATEROS –The county’s 2024 Community Fire Protection Plan (CWPP) held the final of its five meetings at the Pateros Fire Department on Tuesday, April 9, to explain the elements of the plan to the public and gather resident feedback and ideas. The current update, funded through the state’s Climate Commitment Act, is a vital document for the future of wildfire resiliency in Okanogan County,

The Okanogan Conservation District is working on the CWPP project with partners, including Okanogan County Emergency Management, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Okanogan County Commissioners, the Colville Tribes, county sheriff, ranger districts, fire districts, the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group, and others.

Eli Loftis, Wildfire Community Resiliency Lead/Planner for the Okanogan Conservation District, set the table for the discussion with some opening comments and facts about the wildfire history of the state’s largest county.

“In just federally declared disasters we have burned 1.1 million acres in the last 11 years,” said Loftis, adding that during that decade, “We have been impacted by four of the five largest wildfires in the state’s history.”

The county’s first CWPP was set up in 2009 and updated in 2013. It is an inclusive planning document that focuses on the needs and priorities of stakeholders preparing for wildfires. The process involves gathering community input, data assessment, and local decision-making to prioritize and implement wildfire mitigation actions that can occur within 5-10 years.

“That is the sum total of the challenges we are trying to address through this community wildfire protection,” said Loftis. “There is a lot going on here.”

​​The kickoff meeting held Jan. 31 in the Okanogan County Commissioners hearing room drew 48 people. 

They reviewed the fire maps dating from 1985 to 2013, which showed previously burned areas. Another map showed data from 2013 to the present, during which time an additional 1.1 million acres were consumed. The significance is not only for areas that have burned but also for areas that have not yet burned. The visual representation reinforced the need for the CWPP 2024 update. 

The second meeting, held on Feb. 14 at the Okanogan Conservation District office, discussed issues with communication and outreach in the north end and southeast corner of the county and in hard-to-reach areas. 

North County - Tonasket

The first of five meetings out in the county began when 44 residents attended the meeting at Tonasket High School on March 12

Among their suggestions are:

  • Salvage logging after a fire to utilize good timber that is still usable.
  • Bringing local mills back or other infrastructure upgrades to treat the heavy fuel loads and provide a place to take materials. 
  • Enforcement and ramifications for illegal burns.
  • Develop lines of communication to better navigate emergency incidents.
  • Planned evacuation routes and notifications for where to go.
  • Refuge sites for sheltering in place.
  • Education on ember awareness.
  • Actions to reduce fuels around the home.
  • Training for law enforcement, fire responders, local landowners, and others who may respond to wildfire incidents.

Central County – Fairgrounds 

Sixty-six people attended the Central County meeting held on March 19 in the Agriplex. Suggestions from that exchange include:

  • Invasive and highly flammable grasses that take over during regrowth cycles.
  • Incorporate home hardening techniques such as ember-resilient vents, gravel barriers, and ember-resilient screens.
  • Water resources: have enough water available and on hand when needed.
  • Strategic planning to identify locations where water towers exist or could be installed.
  • More prescribed burns.
  • Need for more housing. 
  • Treat hazardous trees on highly utilized roads and highways to keep evacuation routes open.
  • Install metal sleeves around the bottoms of wooden power poles.

East County – Nespelem

The third of five meetings at the Nespelem Government Building drew 33 attendees. Among East County concerns:

  • Aneas Valley is a high population growth area with an ingress/egress problem.
  • Dugout Mountain is a unique area and has some protected species.
  • Moses Meadows has cell service and jurisdictional issues.

Power/substations, communications, ingress and egress, and jurisdictional issues were the main points repeatedly mentioned.

West County – Winthrop

Nearly 60 people met in the Winthrop Barn on March 28 for the fourth meeting in the series. They identified many areas considered at risk and added more ideas to the mix from the previous four meetings. Among those:

  • Concern about receiving timely and accurate communication during a wildfire event.
  • Building codes that require fire-resilient materials and methods.
  • A county fire marshal is needed.
  • Roads that are closed or gated improperly.
  • Housing – county codes do not allow a second residence, such as apartments on property, a change could increase housing,
  • Develop a system where trees can be thinned at the forest interface. Allow/permit firewood collection to make a fire-resistant boundary.
  • Education programs for schools about firefighting to encourage students to head towards a career in fire service.

South County – Pateros

The final CWPP meeting concluded in Pateros on April 9, where in 2014, the state’s largest wildfire to that date, the 2014 Carlton Complex, destroyed 111 homes in and around the city and left scars that remain to this day.

Mayor Kelly Hook attended the Pateros meeting.

“We all need to remember what is truly important to us,” said Hook. “If you don’t have an evacuation plan – what you are going to pack, what you are going to need – start working on that.”

The mayor speaks from personal experience and relates his personal experience from the 2014 Carlton Complex fire.

“I couldn’t get from Brewster to Pateros that night,” said Hook. “I heard the fire was coming into town, so I was trying to evacuate south with my family and then come back here to check on my sister and brother-in-law and their family.”

The fire forced the closure of SR97 between Brewster and Pateros.

“I couldn’t get out of town,” said Hook, “I had to spend the night in Bridgeport.”

Hook said the CWPP series will remind many to get on board with preparedness.

Mike Maltais: 350-333-8483 or michael@ward.media

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here