It was another pleasantly uneventful year in Lake County, 2015 lacking any large-scale wildfires while yet again unfortunately much of the surrounding area burned. With fire season now mostly over and attention turned towards proactive measures such as prescribed burns to reduce the chance of future large wildfires, officials took time to assess the fire season and lessons learned.
Barry Shullanberger, interagency fire staff officer for the 2.3-million acre Fremont-Winema National Forest and 3.5 million-acre Lakeview District of the Bureau of Land Management, spoke with Lake County Commissioners to review the total activities from the season. In all there were 285 fires suppressed within the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership (SCOFMP) totaling 21,210 acres, 78 percent were caused by lightning. Thankfully few of the human-caused fires, 62 in total, resulted in rapidly expanding fires, people’s impact contributing to only 259 total acres burned. In all SCOFMP protects 9.8 million acres across Southern Oregon, northern California and Nevada.
“Fire season went extremely well for Klamath and Lake County,” said Shullanberger. “We were extremely lucky that our lightning storms were generally wet, so we kept our fires small. We beefed up our initial attack resources when we knew those storms were coming in, that paid off well for us.”
SCOFMP’s resources were stretched but effective in keeping small fires small, while the devastating fires across the west resulted in the sharing of crews, equipment and aircraft to attend to larger fires elsewhere. During the summer months SCOFMP local resources assigned to assist elsewhere included 58 crew, 144 pieces of equipment and 46 aircraft. In addition, military units were mobilized along with the Oregon National Guard, local volunteer fire fighters assisted fire crews, and even international fire fighters were brought in to help attack many of the large wildfires that burned across the west.
“We dispatched crews elsewhere supporting the rest of the northwest, but kept enough resources for draw down levels,” said Shullanberger. “Thank goodness it was good here, because if we had needed more resources I’m not sure how much we could have gotten. We were fortunate in 2015 to not have many human-caused fires. Those are the ones we can’t predict, so we appreciate people paying attention to fire restrictions, it makes a difference.”
While fire danger still exists, the changing seasons and colder temperatures have brought some relief, though close monitoring continues until a clear season-ending weather event occurs. Attention now shifts to applying lessons learned from the 2015 to future fire seasons from a funding and resource perspective, in the continued hope of working to keep small fires small.
“On the USFS side we are looking at more prescribed fires, taking advantage of fall days to reduce fuels that will keep us from having large wildfires in the future,” added Shullanberger. “I also think we’re going to discuss how we handled not having enough resources, folks in Washington surely could have used more resources, as we had some areas re-burn after 2014 fires.”
For up to date fire information contact Lakeview Interagency Fire Center at 541-947-6315 or visit www.scofmp.org/lifc.shtml.