Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fire and Smoke in the Wenatchee Valley

usbackroads information--Fire and Smoke in the Wenatchee Valley

Fire on the landscape is no stranger to the Wenatchee Valley.  The east slopes of the Cascades are a high desert down along the Columbia River.  In Wenatchee the average annual rainfall is just eight inches and most of that comes in the form of snow during the winter months.

 In the late 1980's and early 1990's the droughts made rain a rare event in the valley.  I did not recognize how rare until we were flying to Hawaii with our daughter Alexandra.  She was two years old and we were standing under the awning at the motel in Seattle waiting for the airport shuttle.  It was pouring rain and Alex pointed in the air and asked "Daddy, what's that falling from the sky"?  I quickly explained that God made rain for people without irrigation systems.  So rain is always a rare event in Wenatchee, and in some years it just goes missing.

This spring started wet and stayed wet well into summer.  It was around late August that I noticed it was very dry around Camas.  However, with summer at an apparent end and the threat from lightning diminishing daily I thought we might be out of the woods.

It was on a fire assignment that I remember a weatherman saying that the last day for widespread lighting in eastern Washington is usually September 8th.  After that the sun angle is too low for widespread lightning.  And really the concern is for a widespread lighting storm that results in multiple starts throughout the forest.

On the morning of September 8th the National Weather Service predicted a 20% chance of lightning.  So we went up to Camas to prepare the house for winter by primarily putting our firewood up against the house so it would be easy to access in the snow.

That night one of the most impressive lightning storms to hit the Wenatchee Valley started at dusk.  There were over 1,000 gound strikes resulting in over 100 fires from that storm.  Some of those fires grew very large fairly quickly.  You can see the pictures from the fires in previous postings in this blog.

So technically, the National Weather Service was correct.

Large fires are no uncommon in the Wenatchee Valley.  So many fires that the years just blend them together and only outstanding years like 1994 remain separate in the memory banks.

The 2012 fires were exceptional not for the acreage burned, but for the smoke produced.  Many of the fires burned close to town and a large number of homes including Camas were under evacuation alerts.  Even that was not exceptional, in 1994 EVERY community in Chelan County was under an evacuation alert.  But that smoke now that was exceptional.  This is the view from our house early this May.

This is the view for most of September and October of 2012.

The smoke did have its positive side.  For example, I could use the sun to put a "Christmas"ornament on the top of tree!!

This smoke was nasty and there is nothing pleasant about breathing it for a month.  After a month of wood smoke smell it is enough to make you give up campfires for life.

However, there was a good side to the smoke.  The smoke is caused by weather inversions were the temperatures at high elevations are warmer than on the ground.  This causes the fires to produce lots of smoke, but they burn more slowly giving firefighters a chance to control the fire.

Smoke is good.  Well, for controlling forest fires.  There were no homes lost during the fire outbreak.  One reason for that is that on most days the inversion kept the fires from growing rapidly.  I am sure that we would have lost our home at Camas Meadows if it was not for those long strings of inversions that kept the Poison Fire from growing rapidly.

So smoke is good, sometimes.  But our lungs were not really designed for breathing it.  Forecast for this weekend is a 60% chance of rain by Sunday night.  Rain, I never thought I would see the day that I would be looking forward to foul weather!!

For those following our issues with the electric bikes here is an update:

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