Fire Mitigation Committee Report, June 2015

Firewise Day

The North Fork’s annual Firewise Day will be held on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 from 9:30 – noon in Sondreson Community Hall. The Firewise workshop will precede the Summer Interlocal meeting.

We anticipate another excellent program. We’ll begin with a video about wildfires in Washington and Oregon in 2014. The video depicts extreme fire behavior. Then Lincoln Chute, Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager, will give a presentation about evacuation planning, structure triage, and county responsibilities during a wildfire. U.S Forest Service personnel will inform us about fire season projections and staffing levels. DNRC foresters will explain their role and the services that they provide on the North Fork. Finally, we’ll have a display and demonstration of common tools for fire suppression and information about sources for the tools.

The program is timely and tailored to what is expected to be a very active fire season in Western Montana, given the record-setting warm and dry conditions this Spring. We hope to see you at the workshop.

Ten Years as Firewise Community

The North Fork recently was honored for having been a Firewise Community for ten years. The two basic requirements are to hold an annual Firewise Day event and make a minimum per capita expenditure on Firewise activities. We received a trophy commemorating our long-time membership. It will be displayed in the Hall.

Grant Status

Landowners along Trail Creek Road have received a letter informing them about potential grant assistance for removing hazardous fuels on their properties adjoining the road. The project is a priority for our fourth hazardous fuels grant. Treating fuels along the road will improve landowners and firefighter ingress and egress. It also will afford an escape route over the Whitefish Divide for the north end of the valley.

A word from Fire Chief Lynn Ogle

Moose FireJanuary, no snow, some rain, February not much snow and some rain, lots of ICE. March little snow and rain.   April clear skies, no snow or rain. May, however was another thing. Sunshine, wind and rain. It appears that there was lots of rain and that we will have no, or not a great fire season.

While I am not a doomsday sayer, I must remind everyone that You have to have a burn permit this month. You should have the proper tools to maintain your fire in a safe manner. As an example, shovel, rake (Not Plastic), hoe, garden hose that is charged and ready to use. If you have a tank with water, have it full and the pump ready to use. When you are finished, Make sure your fire is out! Drowned it out if possible.

For more information: www.firesafekalispell.com. For questions 406-751-8730. Also check out http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/predictive/outlooks/monthly_seasonal_outlook.pdf

There is NO burning of household items such as covered chairs and or couches. No plumbing waste or electrical wires. Burning plastics is an environmental problem. Take your plastic water bottles to the landfill. (There have been enough water bottles manufactured in the world to circle the world at the equator 9 times to date.)

Again this year we will have a Firesafe Workshop at the Community Hall the day of the Interlocal, July 15, 2015. We will have interesting speakers and or presenters. We will start around 0900 AM. Lunch at about noon, with the Interlocal after. Please plan on attending.

Fire Season, begins July 1 through September 31, 2015

Lynn P. Ogle
Trail Creek Fire Company, Chief
lpogle@lazys-o.com

Update on the Coal Ridge Cabin

Andy Huntsberger, Assistant Fire Management Officer – Operations, Flathead National Forest sent in an update on work they have been doing at the Coal Ridge Cabin. Here is a timeline:

  • 2012 we put a new roof on and installed a new wood stove and pipe
  • 2014 installed all new siding (donated be the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association), new coat of stain and all new glass
  • 2015 we plan on finishing/second coat of stain and possibly replacing some floor boards

Andy goes on to say… When I was at the Cabin last summer I read the entries in the visitor log and it was all very positive and informative.  The Cabin is currently being used as a day shelter for hikers and at this time we do not plan on changing this.  We could and would  post someone at this cabin, if needed, during a wildfire event.  However, on a regular and reoccurring basis we plan on leaving it open to the public.  It is 3.5 mile hike and a decent pull to the site, ideally this will deter any vandalism.  We encourage the public to visit and enjoy this site.

Finally, Andy sent some photographs of the Coal Ridge Cabin, before and after work. Here they are:

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Late Winter 2015

2015 Firewise Day

The North Fork has been recognized as a Firewise Community for ten years. One of the requirements for continuing recognition is holding an annual Firewise Day event. The North Fork’s annual Firewise workshops have been informative and well-attended, covering a range of wildfire and stewardship topics.

This year, the NFLA’s Fire Mitigation Committee will sponsor its Firewise workshop on Wednesday, July 15 2015 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting. Although plans for the event are not yet complete, the committee expects to show a video of fire behavior during the 2014 Pacific Northwest fire season. Tentatively, presenters will include Lincoln Chute, Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager, and committee co-chair Allen Chrisman.   We’ll probably also hear updates from the agency representatives with whom we work. More information about the program will be posted on the NFLA website when the agenda is final.

Hazardous Fuels Grants

Since the fires of 2003, the Fire Mitigation Committee has helped numerous private landowners treat hazardous forest fuels on their properties by obtaining cost-share grants. The grants have paid 75% of the cost of an eligible project and the landowner has contributed the remaining 25%.

We are currently working on our fourth grant, this one in the amount of $91,000. One of our priorities for the grant is to reduce fuel accumulations along the lower stretch of Trail Creek Road, where it passes through private property. Treating fuels there will improve ingress and egress for landowners, allow safer access for firefighters, and afford an escape route over the Whitefish Divide. Committee members are contacting landowners to discuss the program and to determine their interest in participation.

Lincoln Chute has obtained approval from the Flathead County commissioners to use a county chipper to help dispose of slash generated along Trail Creek Road. We’ll need to show substantial, wide-spread benefit to warrant use of the equipment. Landowners also will need to cut slash material to size and align it along the roadside to facilitate handling.

More information about participation in the grant program is available from Bill Swope, who may be reached at 406-250-9812 or at bhswope@gmail.com.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Fall 2014

Firewise Day2014 Firewise Day

The North Fork Landowners’ Association’s Fire Mitigation Committee held its annual Firewise Day workshop on July 16, 2014. The theme of the workshop was “Wildfires Happen: Take Action! Plan. Prepare. Prevent.”

The program began with a powerful DVD about recent major fires in Colorado, with a segment on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013. Several outstanding presentations followed. Angela Mallon, Stewardship Specialist with the Montana DNRC’s Forestry Division, used model simulations to demonstrate the effectiveness of various fuel treatments. North Fork landowner Larry Kinsolving described the restoration work that he and his wife Ruth are doing on their property in the aftermath of the Wedge Canyon Fire in 2003. The title of his presentation was “Closing the Ring: Fire, Restoration and Beyond.”

The forty attendees heard updates about North Fork activities from representatives of the U. S. Forest Service and the DNRC. They also learned about the status of the North Fork’s current hazardous fuels mitigation grants. Finally, they were given an overview of the Firesafe Montana program by Jennifer LaManna, Firesafe’s Executive Director.

Work completed on the Sondreson Hall Fuels Mitigation ProjectSondreson Community Hall Hazardous Fuels Project

The North Fork Landowners’ Association applied for and received a hazardous fuels reduction grant for work around Sondreson Community Hall. North director Allen Chrisman, who also serves as co-chair of the Fire Mitigation Committee, lined out the project. The objective was to remove surface and ladder fuels and to provide space between the crowns of the remaining trees.

Nineteen volunteers contributed a total of 81 hours and the use of equipment to the Hall project. They sought to minimize soil disturbance and visual impacts, leaving strong, healthy trees in place.   The project was completed in late May 2014 and has been well-received by the community.

Hazardous Fuels Grants

The DNRC awarded the North Fork its fourth hazardous fuels grant in the Fall of 2013, this one in the amount of $91,000. As with our three previous grants, monies are available on a cost-share basis, with the grant paying 75% of the cost and the landowner contributing the remaining 25%.

A priority of the new grant is to reduce fuel accumulations along the lower segment of Trail Creek Road, where it passes through private property. Treating the fuels will provide significant benefits, among them improving ingress and egress for landowners, allowing safer access for firefighters, and affording an escape route over the Whitefish Divide in the event of a large fire or other catastrophic event in the lower North Fork Valley.

The Fire Mitigation Committee is working collaboratively with private landowners, the Forest Service and Flathead County on the Trail Creek Road project.

2014 Fire Wise Day

For eleven years (since the Wedge Canyon Fire in 2003, the NFLA has had a very active Fire Mitigation Committee. Each summer, the committee hosts a Fire Wise Day at the Hall to help inform landowners about what they can do on their property to mitigate the effects of catastrophic wildfire. Grants have been available to help landowners with reducing fuels around their homes. This year’s Fire Wise program began with a staggering film about the devastating wildfires that have plagued Colorado in recent years. This film covered some of the causes of those fires and the conditions that control the options that fire managers have in fighting huge wildfires. The overwhelming message of the film is that if you choose to live in a fire-prone area, you will eventually have to deal with the consequences. The remainder of the program focused on research concerning adequate distance between trees in thinning projects and the Kinsolving’s restoration project since the Wedge Canyon Fire. Molly Shepherd and Allen Chrisman received an award from Fire Safe Montana for their leadership with the NFLA Fire Mitigation Committee.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Late Winter 2014

2014 Firewise Day

For the ninth year, the North Fork has been recognized as a Firewise Community.  One of the requirements for recognition is holding an annual Firewise Day event.

This year, the Fire Mitigation Committee will sponsor its Firewise workshop on July 16, 2014 from 9:30 to noon, preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting.  The program will include a powerful video about several recent, destructive fires in Colorado.  The fire behavior depicted in the video is similar to that seen in large fires on the North Fork.  A principal message of the video is that firefighters can’t save structures if landowners haven’t done their part by modifying the fuels around them.  Tentatively, several landowners will showcase the fuels modification work that they have done on their properties.  Planning for the workshop continues.

Hazardous Fuels Grants

The DNRC awarded the North Fork its fourth hazardous fuels grant in the Fall of 2013, this one in the amount of $91,000.  Monies are available on a cost-share basis, with the grant paying 75% of the cost of an eligible project and the landowner contributing the remaining 25%.   A primary objective of the grant is to thin vegetation on private land along Trail Creek Road, making it a safer exit route in the event another large fire visits the area.   The committee will be working with private landowners, the Forest Service and possibly Flathead County to accomplish the work.

Funds under the third hazardous fuels grant are almost exhausted.   The grant has been used to connect landowners’ treatments with those on public lands, as well as to treat around homes.  For those interested in applying for grant monies, additional information is available on the NFLA web site.

Mapping Project

The Fire Mitigation Committee hopes to update maps of complementary fuels reduction work that has been done on public and private land since the Wedge Canyon Fire in 2003.  Wally Bennett, Type 1 Incident Commander during the Wedge fire, anticipates that the work will make a big difference in future fire behavior and suppression efforts on the North Fork.  He spoke at our successful and well-attended 2013 Firewise workshop, after visiting many of the sites.  Updated maps would enable the North Fork landowners and their agency partners to see what they have accomplished in the last ten years.

Fire Mitigation Committee update, August 2013

The Fire Mitigation Committee held its annual Firewise Day workshop on July 10, 2013, before the Inter Local meeting.  The focus of the workshop was the Wedge Canyon Fire, ten years later.  Over fifty people attended.   The response was enthusiastic, particularly to presentations by Allen Chrisman and Wally Bennett.

Allen spoke about climate change and its effects on fire behavior and frequency in the Northern Rockies.  Basically, we’re likely to experience more fires and more intense fires as temperatures rise.

Wally Bennett took over as Type 1 Incident Commander the day after the Wedge Canyon Fire made its big run on July 24, 2003.  He recently visited the North Fork to see the public and private fuels reduction work that’s been accomplished since the fire.  He remarked at the workshop that the work has made a big difference and that he’s proud of what we’ve done.   He also spoke about ingress and egress and how important it is to firefighters to turn their equipment around.

In addition, Michael Dardis discussed the major fuels projects undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service on the North Fork since the Wedge Fire.  Brian Manning did the same on behalf of the DNRC.  Federal and State efforts complement those of private landowners.

Otherwise, it appears that the North Fork will be awarded another fuels reduction grant, this one in the amount of $91,000.  We don’t have a formal agreement yet but if it happens, monies will still be available on a 75-25 basis, with the grant paying 75% and the landowner paying 25% of the cost of a project.  That’s increasingly rare; many grants now require 50-50 contributions.   There will be a focus on Trail Creek Road as an exit route in the event other routes aren’t available.

Finally, speaking of the ten years that have passed since the Wedge Canyon Fire, it’s also been ten years since the Fire Mitigation Committee was appointed.  Ed Heger, Lynn Ogle, Molly Shepherd, Jerry Wernick and Larry Wilson have served from the beginning.  Allen Chrisman joined the committee a few years ago, after her retired as Fire Management Officer for the Flathead Forest.

Molly Shepherd, Chair
North Fork Landowners’ Association’s
Fire Mitigation Committee

Wedge Canyon 10 years later

Following is an article about North Fork fire mitigation efforts since the Wedge fire written by Molly Shepherd in anticipation of our Firewise Day workshop. It appeared in place of Larry Wilson’s column in the Hungry Horse News on July 3, 2013.

Ten years ago, on July 18, 2003, a lightning strike in the Whitefish Range ignited the Wedge Canyon Fire.  Before the fire finally died out in the Fall, it had destroyed seven homes and twenty-nine outbuildings between Whale Creek and Trail Creek.  54,400 acres burned.  The costs of fighting the fire and protecting structures exceeded $50 million.

The Wedge Canyon Fire was only one of many large wildfires that have burned across the North Fork Valley.  Indeed, fire has been second only to glaciation in shaping the valley’s landscape.  But because of its cost, destructiveness and duration, Wedge Canyon served as a catalyst for change.  The North Fork Landowners’ Association appointed a diverse committee to explore what might be done to mitigate the effects of future wildfires.

Members of the Fire Mitigation Committee reached several understandings based on the North Fork’s fire history and the probability of future fires.  One was that it’s safer, cheaper and more effective to abate hazards before a fire starts.  Another was that although landowners have neither the ability nor the desire to eliminate fire from the valley, we can and should ameliorate the risks that it poses to our homes and the costs associated with defending them.

Since Wedge Canyon, the committee has obtained three grants from the DNRC to help North Fork landowners reduce hazardous fuels on their properties.  Response to the voluntary cost-sharing program has been remarkable.  The first two grants resulted in more than 100 home wildfire inspections with treatment prescriptions.  Fuels reduction work was completed under about 100 separate cost agreements.  At least 500 acres of private property were treated with grant money.  Probably even more acres were treated without any financial assistance.  Projects funded by the third grant are underway, several of which seek to protect multiple homes and to afford safe ingress and egress for landowners and firefighters.

Private fuel treatments are just part of the story, however.  Only about 14,500 acres–less than three per cent of the total acreage in the North Fork Valley–are in private hands.  Given this reality, the Fire Mitigation Committee decided that landowners needed to collaborate with federal and state agencies to reduce risk.

The agencies were receptive.  Our shared premise has been that public and private efforts should complement one another, with homes being the focal point.  Both the Forest Service and the DNRC have planned and implemented major fuels reduction projects in consultation with the committee and other landowners.  It’s been a model of public and private partnership, leveraging the effectiveness of one another’s efforts.

This month, the Fire Mitigation Committee will sponsor a workshop marking the tenth anniversary of the Wedge Canyon Fire.   We’ll look back to conditions at the time of the Wedge Fire, assess what’s changed in the intervening ten years, and consider the potential effects of the changes on future fires.   The event will serve as our annual Firewise Day.

Presenters include Wally Bennett, who was Type I Incident Commander during the Wedge Fire.  He’ll share his perspectives on the fire and on how subsequent fuels reduction projects might affect future fire behavior and suppression efforts.   In addition, committee member Allen Chrisman will examine North Fork fire history and climate change.  Michael Dardis will discuss fuels projects undertaken by the Forest Service since Wedge; Brian Manning will do the same on behalf of the DNRC.  Bill Swope will review what’s been accomplished with the help of grants and touch upon some ongoing concerns, among them ingress and egress.

The North Fork Firewise Day workshop will be held on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 from 9:30 a.m. to noon in Sondreson Community Hall, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal Meeting.    We hope to see you then.

Molly Shepherd, Chair
North Fork Landowners’ Association’s
Fire Mitigation Committee

Fire Adapted Communities workshop

Jennifer Mayberry LaManna from FireSafe Montana says… Please join us in Libby Montana for the Fire Adapted Communities Workshop on Friday April 26th and Saturday April 27th, 2013. We are looking forward to some good presentations and discussions on how wildfire impacts a community. If you have any further questions you can email execdir@firesafemt.org or contact Ed Levert at 406-293-2847.