Below is the most current information on the fire situation.
Paul Sowers’ Post – 7 Sept.
This is going to be a long update, so make yourself comfortable.
First off, many of you have reached out to me with messages, texts, posts, phone calls, emails, telegrams, and carrier pigeons. I have not always been able to respond in a timely manner, or at all. This is not representative of a lack of courtesy or interest so much as an inability to focus on more than one thing at a time.
I wish that I had been at the community meeting this evening. Must’ve missed the memo. Keneta took some great notes, and I have attached them here.
I went over to the Norse Peak Incident Command Post with representatives from Mount Rainier National Park in order to ensure that resources were being managed in a way that addressed the needs of the Crystal Mountain and Greenwater communities, the WRRA cabins, and MRNP. I feel confident that this was achieved. It was our position that the Crystal Mountain Ski Area and the WRRA cabins were being directly and immediately threatened, and that somehow the urgency of our situation was not being conveyed to those making resource allocation decisions. As Geoff Walker of MRNP and I described the current fire conditions, it was apparent by the reaction in the room that we were correct. At the close of the planning meeting, the Incident Commander placed his finger on Crystal Mountain and the cabins and stated that this was now their top priority. We will now have more than a couple of small volunteer departments and their buddies.
As much as I would like to take credit for this, much of the thanks belongs to Chief Alan Predmore of Buckley Fire, who understands who to call and what to say, and who has a deep understanding of incident management and the intangible considerations that are often overlooked. He has been a friend and advocate for our departments for as long as I can remember, and has not gotten any more sleep than I have. There have been many members of the community who I know were out there advocating for our little corner of the world. Martie Schramm, Snoqualmie District Ranger, made it very clear in the morning conference call briefing, that the lack of attention to the fire on the west side was completely unacceptable. Thanks to all of you. It made a difference. On our way over to the meeting, we passed six type 6 engines headed west down Chinook Pass. By the time I reached the meeting, they had reported to our command post at Crystal and were put to work. The concerns and frustrations that you have aired were heard, and by the time that the community meeting in Greenwater was held, management of resources had been adjusted to give us the help that we need.
The current management team will be returning to Florida, slightly early due to the hurricane approaching their home state. I certainly wish them well, and hope that their homes and families are safe. The fire complex from Norse Peak to Sawmill will be managed as one fire, which it pretty much is, with two type 2 management teams, probably one on the east and one on the west. Part of the larger purpose of the meeting today was to develop this strategy. This will result in a more balanced allocation of resources, and better situational awareness by the incident managers of fire conditions on both sides of the Cascades. With the severity of the fire season throughout the country, resources are stretched to the very limit. It is important to use the resources that are available efficiently.
The fire above Crystal was most active in Bullion Basin. Conditions were very smoky, but it did not appear that the fire moved significantly closer to the resort. Farther down the boulevard, near mile marker 3, there is an area of fire that has crept down towards the road, and is showing moderate activity. In the area above the cabins, there is moderate fire activity visible from the Boulevard on the other side of the drainage, as described in Keneta’s notes. A spot fire was reported at Goat Falls, and DNR crews are currently mopping it up. If the smoke clears, and helicopters fly, bucket drops would make a huge difference in our situation. I believe that my opinion on this has been made pretty clear.
It would appear that we are entering a cooler period with higher humidity and possible even a little precipitation. I don’t want to say any more. Might jinx it.
Today’s work went well. Water pressure in the sprinkler system at Gold Hills was improved. Vegetation surrounding several houses was treated with a retardant by a contractor dispatched by an insurance company. He agreed to continue treating as many houses and cabins as he could, and is willing to come back tomorrow. We expect several similar contractors tomorrow, and escort them up Gold Hills Road as long as it is safe.
Much of our effort today was directed at the cabins. Starting with the cabins closest to the fire, our crews began removing fuels and treating with Class A foam. The contractor who treated the homes in Gold Hills also began treating some of the vegetation around cabins. We will continue this work tomorrow. The crews that came over from the eastside were assigned to this area, and began cutting fireline above the cabins. When they went off duty, two more crews reported for overnight patrol. House wrap for the cabins should arrive tomorrow.
I know that many cabin owners have been anxious to gain access to their cabins, to gather belongings, work on defenses, or just to check. For safety reasons, entry and exit of people would need to be tracked, and escorts provided. We have discouraged this due to lack of available resources. The physical work of preparing structural defenses has taxes our crews to the limit. With more resources now available, we will begin allowing cabin owners access to their cabins for the purposes listed above. There will be a check-in point, time, names and cabin numbers will be tracked, and an escort provided. A limited number of people will be admitted at one time, probably 3 to 5, depending on available resources. If you just want to grab a couple of small things or check your cabin, I would encourage you to coordinate with your neighbors, so that one person might do several cabins. This will be in the morning, starting at approximately 9:00, and discontinue at around 3:pm, depending on heat and wind. All of this is dependent on fire behavior.
The closest fire to Greenwater is on Dalles Ridge. Although there is still no immediate threat to Greenwater, the behavior of this fire to date has been so extreme that it would be foolish not to prepare for the possibility. Many of you have seen DNR rigs driving through the communities doing structural protection assessments and familiarizing themselves with the community. We have a fire protection plan that we developed with the DNR some time ago, and they have that information. I will keep you notified as updated information becomes available.
I know that this is an anxious and frustrating experience. My feeling after today is that significant changes have been made to the management structure of this fire that will address the needs of our community, by which I mean Greenwater, Crystal Mountain, WRRA, and the Park. I would be happy to hold an informal meeting on Friday night at 6pm in order to address any questions that people still have, provided that I know the answers.
Special thanks to the firefighters of Crystal Mountain, Greenwater, Buckley, Carbonado, Enumclaw, and Browns Point. I am constantly amazed at the volunteer spirit, and those who do the right thing for the right reasons. Extra special thanks to Zachary, who broke loose from a fire in Oregon to be here and, after working all day on that fire, drove six hours straight fueled by Red Bull and attitude. Really extra special thanks to Jesse Cartwright, who reluctantly volunteered via direct order to be the Public Information Officer (PIO) for Crystal Mountain Fire, and will therefore be buying a lot of ice cream.
Chief Alan Predmore and Ranger Geoff Walker have been here from the start. They spend so much time trying to make me look good that I don’t know when they do their own jobs.
Community Meeting (6 Sept.) Summary ( not sure who the author is on this, but it seems accurate. I was also at the meeting. – Scott)
Here’s an update from tonight’s informal community meeting about the Norse Peak and Sawmill Creek fires. Please keep in mind this meeting came together at the very last minute as a way to update and inform residents. It wasn’t a planned meeting with representatives from each agency available to answer every question. Most available personnel were working on the first priority: protecting lives and property from the fires.
As of tonight, a crew including people from the Crystal department is working ahead of the Norse Peak fire in the Silver Springs cabin area alongside a Type 2 hand crew of 20 people. They have ordered some protective wrap and it’s available. They also have plans in place for other protective measures including laying protective plumbing for sprinklers and pumping water from the creek. Winds have shifted favorably in that area so the fire is burning back on itself, moving away from the cabins as of 6:00 pm. No heavy rain is forecast, but tomorrow’s projected cooling and slight moisture should help the responders’ efforts.
This fire is currently 1/2 mile from Goat Creek and is backing up slowly due to the favorable wind. Crews and lookouts are there and despite quick movement in the past 48 hours,, fire moves sober in these smoky conditions, hasn’t progressed much in goat creek, still well above those structures. Assessing everything, as make progress will move from there forward.
The Sawmill Creek fire has a team called from a fire last night. While waiting for equipment and access, they were able to go out with the local district today, scout the fire and plan for mobilizing resources as soon as they arrive. More information about this fire is available at 253.666.8841 in addition to the websites/Facebook pages referenced on this page.
Plans are being developed to stay ahead of both these fires with a priority on responder safety, and areas where people and property are concentrated. Should any areas go under an evacuation order, the Sheriff’s department will notify all residents, including door-to-door notification. Evacuation decisions are made by that department.
Community members have offered a lot of resources including money, volunteer hands and equipment. In a critical scenario, like this one, it can be a false economy to manage and mobilize those resources, impeding what the folks professionally trained to fight fires need to do. All offers are appreciated and will be accepted when/if they’re appropriate to the situation. Please keep in mind a “no” or “not now” response might feel counterintuitive, but is there for good reasons. Similarly, this isn’t a situation where an “all call” for anyone with fire training is necessarily appropriate. Regional fire crews are responding to needs like mapping and assessing properties for defensibility, but wildland fire crews need to be experienced working together. Throwing together 20 folks who may all have experience but don’t work as a coordinated team isn’t a feasible approach.
Both fires present three particular challenges, which limit the responding strategies:
1) Terrain, trail access and fire behavior limit where crews on the ground can go and what they’re able to do. Responders are engaging local loggers and other qualified folks to create better access/egress, but generally there isn’t a feasible way to get to the fire itself. Using the best strategy available, crews are working in front of the fire—watching the behavior, anticipating direction, and moving crews to stop its progress at a manageable distance for responder safety.
2) Limited visibility due to smoke has inhibited air operations. Pilots haven’t been able to see the appropriate targets to locate effective drops. They also need visibility to make sure their long lines aren’t caught in the trees. At this point in time any drops would be water (not fire repellent) due to regulations governing this particular forest. The crews managing the incident are in continuous conversation with the forest service about whether a waiver could be secured; however, repellent isn’t necessarily an effective option in a forest with the kind of dense canopy we have here. The weather forecast looks hopeful for aerial operations in the next day or two, but clearer/less smoky weather also means fire activity may increase, as smoky conditions suppress that behavior somewhat.
3) With extreme fires throughout Washington State, Oregon, Montana and other areas, including heavily populated areas, trained personnel and equipment are severely limited. Funding and political influence to get more crews here are not in shortage, but resources nationally are maxed out not only by wildfires but by the hurricanes in Houston and anticipated catastrophic landfall in Florida. The people managing these fires are summoning as many resources as they can, beg-borrow-steal style. They have daily update calls with folks who coordinate resources at the national level, based on priority.
Community members whose businesses or homes have already been under Level 3 evacuation may be able to access their properties if escorted by law enforcement, but never alone at this time. Contact the Pierce County Sheriff’s department but please think carefully first about whether retrieving your belongings is a high enough priority to divert resources from other fire-related activities.
Most importantly, don’t do anything to impede or delay the responders working on the fire. Working on your structures, you can clear the property of debris, move cars out of garages, clear gutters, block vents with fireproof material, move propane tanks away from the house and deal with any other flammable material.