Small Washington town gets big on fire prevention

Ashley BachBLOG

The city of Roslyn in Kittitas County, Wash., was threatened last summer by the 37,000-acre Jolly Mountain Fire, one of the worst wildfires the county has seen in modern times. More than 1,000 residents near the city were evacuated.

That added a special urgency to a tour earlier this month by local Roslyn fire officials as part of national Wildfire Preparedness Day. Officials showed off fire-prevention work by local and state leaders, some of which has been going on for years and some of which came after last year’s fire.

The tour showed that fire prevention requires the work of multiple agencies, at all levels of government, as well as local volunteers and property owners. In one instance, a logging company that happened to be visiting Roslyn cut a fire line above town during last summer’s Jolly Mountain Fire.

(Roslyn Fire Department emergency services coordinator Chris Martin) said there was a logging show going on in town at the time. Mayor Brent Hals went down to the show and asked one of the participating logging companies if they would be willing to go up and cut a fire line. The line was cut through private land.

“They completed it in 36 hours,” Martin said. “A lot of it was utilizing an existing road but nevertheless they did a pretty nice job.”

A combination of thinning and prescribed burns is the heart of the city of Roslyn’s fire-prevention strategy.

Martin said the city-managed Roslyn Urban Forest is the focus now. The forest is mainly comprised of second-growth timber. Activities such as reducing ground fuels by prescribing burns and taking lower limbs off trees to help prevent burning up into the crowns of the trees is of main priority, as well as thinning out the trees themselves. One section of the forest was thinned three years ago, but Martin said much more needs to be done.

“If you looked at a satellite map of our area, this section is going to be the densest section of forest within a couple miles of Roslyn,” Martin said. “Nothing’s been done to it for about 50 years. There’s a lot of growth in there.”

…Martin said there are two separate thinning contracts planned to begin in the Roslyn Urban Forest on May 9. The effort will start on opposite ends and eventually meet in the middle. A prescribed burn will be possible next fall after the thinning is complete. Martin said the fire department plans on having prescribed burns around a perimeter of the city.

“The Roslyn Fire Department’s goal is to get everything within a mile of town and hopefully a bit more than that burned out,” Martin said. “We did 12 acres above town last fall and hardly anyone noticed.”

Martin said by reducing the fuels with prescribed burns, the imminent threat of wildfires toward town would be drastically reduced.

“You’d have a significant reduction of threat,” Martin said. “You could safely say you’d eliminate the threat of catastrophic wildfire in the area. We’d still have fires, but they wouldn’t burn with the intensity that they couldn’t be managed.”

Forest landowners are doing their part as well.

Martin said the Nature Conservancy also has plans for its lands above the Roslyn Urban Forest.

“The Nature Conservancy is going to do more thinning, more logging up there,” Martin said. “Their goal is to burn from D Street in Roslyn up to the main ridge and then hopefully down into the Teanaway.”