The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Kaci Bartkowski
For the Sentinel 

Preparing for wild fire before they hit our doorsteps

 


There’s no question about it, we have seen an increase in the severity and intensity of wildfires in the last few years. Since 2011, nearly 2 million acres in Washington have burned in over 7,000 fires. During the Carlton Complex fire in 2014, over 300 structures and homes burned, and over 1000 livestock were killed. After a devastating year in 2014, Washington was hit harder in 2015. Over two thousand fires started, 1.13 million acres burned, three wild land firefighters lost their lives, and 364 structures and homes burned, with another 16,000 structures threatened. How did we get ourselves into this situation?

Over 100 years ago, our ecosystem was exposed to frequent low-intensity fires. These fires maintained the forests by consuming accumulated timber litter and understory. It was a natural thinning process that reduced competition for resources resulting in healthier forests. Forests dominated by Ponderosa Pine had more of a park-like atmosphere; trees with a diameter of 12 or more inches were spaced between 12 to 40 trees per acre. As the land was settled, the fire regime was disturbed. Through active fire suppression, our forests grew into the thick stands that we see today, often with well over 300 mature trees to the acre. Our forests are competing for limited resources and we are now seeing the results; widespread disease, drought stress, and catastrophic fires killing trees by the thousands.

We live in a fire-driven ecosystem in Klickitat County. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when we are not directly affected by wildfires. We become complacent after a few years pass following a major fire and we forget the kind of devastation a wildlife can leave in its wake. 2016 was a relatively quiet year for wildfires. We can only hope that it continues like that, but the reality is, we are going to be faced with many more challenges in the future if we do not start taking a proactive approach now to protect our homes and land by mimicking the effects of fire.

 

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