Report: Fire information community meeting in Plain

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The community fire information meeting held Wednesday evening in Plain was attended by a crowd that filled the sanctuary and overflowed into the parking lot and basement. Participating in the program were U.S. Forest Service fire personnel, Sheriff Brian Burnett and members of his staff, Commissioner Keith Goehner, Chief Mick Lamar of Lake Wenatchee Fire and Rescue and Annie Schmidt of the Chumstick Coalition. Clay Templin, Incident Commander of the Type 1 Incident Management Team from the Southwestern US that is handling the three fires known as the Chelan, First Creek and Wolverine fires, gave a brief overview of the fire situation in the Western United States, making the point that there is a need for many more firefighting resources than are available. Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand have arrived to assist in the Chelan complex of fires. Templin reported on the status of each of the three fires in the Chelan complex, noting the progress that has been made toward containment of each of them but also pointing out the challenges each one still presents. The first priority to the team right now is containment/control of the Chelan fire because of its near proximity to the densely populated areas of Chelan and Manson. The second priority is the First Creek fire on the South Shore of Lake Chelan, again because of housing threatened and the possibility of extension to the South toward the Columbia River. The Wolverine fire, which concerns many of us in the Lake Wenatchee area, is the third priority at this time. It is burning in difficult terrain in the upper Entiat Valley and Level 1 evacuations are in place there. This fire did not move significantly Wednesday due to calm weather conditions and if those conditions continue (that’s unlikely) he would expect the fire to progress about 1 mile a day. The possibility of cooler weather and perhaps some rain this weekend are encouraging but fire managers are not confident the rain will be sufficient to significantly curtail the fire. As control of the Chelan and First Creek fires is increased, more of the assets currently working those fires will be re-assigned to the Wolverine fire and Templin speculated that within a few days or a week we’ll be seeing more of those assets in our area. The fire is currently 15-20 miles from Plain and efforts are being made to keep the fire in the upper elevations of the ridges where there is less dense fuel.

Sgt Kent Sisson of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management described the process of establishing evacuation levels in concert with fire managers. Level 1 is basic warning that there is fire in the area and to begin preparations to evacuate. Level 2 is an advisory that the fire is approaching and that evacuation could be imminent. Level 3 is the message to “Get out now”. A plan is in place for issuing evacuation advisories in the Chiwawa, Lake Wenatchee, Plain, Ponderosa, and Chumstick areas if the fire reaches certain agreed on parameters. Other counties have volunteered officers to assist the Chelan County Sheriff in the implementation of evacuations, road closures, etc if needed.

Chief Mick Lamar noted that we have an advantage not available to other communities in our area that have been hit with catastrophic fires in the last year or two- we have the time to prepare for the possible arrival of the Wolverine fire. He encouraged residents to be aware of the potential peril this fire presents to us and to be thinking about what can be done now to prepare for evacuations if ordered at a later time. Moving RV’s, trailers, snowmobiles, large animals etc to other locations is advisable because roads in our area could become congested very quickly with evacuation traffic combined with firefighting apparatus; identify and have ready to go such things as legal documents, birth certificates, photographs, prescription medications etc that you will want or need. Talk with your family about where to meet in the event of an evacuation and what must be done in the absence of any family member.

Annie Schmidt of the Chumstick Coalition encouraged making homes defensible by putting away patio furniture which is easily ignited by embers, replacing beauty bark with landscaping rock, removing lower limbs of trees, etc but reminded that use of chainsaws is prohibited under the current fire status. For more information on preparing your property see http://www.chumstickcoalition.org/

Subsequent to the initial briefing the attendees broke out into separate smaller groups with fire managers to get specific questions answered.

For additional and current fire information visit the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department of Emergency Management on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chelan-County-Emergency-Management/188543097925415?ref=hl