INCIDENT MANAGEMENT UPDATE -- Firefighters, including seven hotshot crews, at the 2,352-acre Manastash Ridge Fire have constructed fire lines directly on the northwest and east edges of the fire, but the uneven and spotty burn along the northern perimeter poses enough risk of re-burning and spotting that direct tactics cannot be used at this time. The Fire, which has been burning since August 9th, has spread from the dense subalpine fir forest with heavy ground and ladder fuels at the top of the Ridge downward into lodgepole pine. Fire behavior is being influenced more by humidity than topography or winds. The fire is now 10 percent contained.
Crews will continue to construct and prepare fire lines today and reduce fuels and install hose lays where they can along the northern perimeter. The southern perimeter – along the Manastash Ridge –has been mopped up and will be patrolled by air. Fire continues to creep and smolder in downed logs along the north and east perimeters of the fire area.
The option to burn out some of the larger areas of unburned forest close to the edge of the fire has been stalled-out by rain and high humidity for several days. The ground fuels and lichens are too wet to carry an effective burnout at this time. So, fire behavior analysts recommend waiting for the fuels to dry out before attempting to burn them and are developing a burn plan. Operations officials are also concerned that extensive mop-up after incomplete burnout would present an unacceptable risk to firefighters. Because the fire behavior is easily influenced by changes in relative humidity, changes can happen quickly and unexpectedly.
The precipitation falling for several days on the fire has come from a weather front approaching from the south and rising over the Manastash Ridge. As the warm air rises over the 2,000 foot-tall cliffs, it releases rain on the fire. Rain is predicted for the fire today, but a stubborn, high pressure ridge that has persisted over the interior West for the past several weeks will shift soon, increase temperatures, and dry out forest fuels in the fire area this weekend. As the fuels dry out, the fire will again become active. Firefighting efforts have focused on creating several very strong contingency fire lines 1-1.5 miles around the fire perimeter, and fire officials are confident that these lines will be adequate to prevent fire spread past them.
The Manastash Ridge Fire has exhibited torching and spotting – characteristics that are associated with high-elevation forests laden with lichens and underlain by very heavy fuels. Where the fire has thoroughly burned ground fuels, the canopies atop them have also burned completely. But, within a few yards of these examples remain trees the fire skipped over, leaving small to large islands of unburned fuels that, with drying conditions, can burst into flames. Building fire lines in this burned and unburned mosaic along the northern perimeter is too dangerous for firefighters.
According to Larry Nickey, incident commander for Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #4, plans for burning out are not going to be rushed. “We will continue to strengthen our contingency lines, build direct line where it is safe to do so, and plan for burn-out actions when we are confident the direct fire lines will prevent fire spread and fuels will be consumed,” he said. “Our suppression actions are all based upon good, solid measurements and fire behavior observations. If burning out unburned fuels to reinforce containment lines is the correct action, we will do it when weather and fuel conditions are in alignment for the action.”
The total cost of suppression actions for the Manastash Ridge fire is $2,799,960. Approximately 60 percent of this cost is for firefighting crews and personnel, and the remaining costs include those for air support, equipment costs, and administration.
Nickey and his team are also managing fire suppression actions at the 1,066-acre Conrad Lake Fire, which is now in the final phases of mop-up. The Fire is located 35 miles southwest of Naches and is currently 30 percent contained. The low containment level is due to the fire having so much open line in the wilderness.
As the Conrad Lake workload has lessened, firefighting crews have been demobilized or reassigned to the Manastash Ridge Fire. Several engines, water tenders, and incident aircraft remain stationed at the Rimrock Peninsula Recreation Area.