From Bill Walker…
The inimitable Karina Pettey put together another excellent on-the-ground update on the Whale Butte Fire. With luck, I also hope to have some map data later.
For those of you at your property…you already know that winds have picked up again today and fire activity has increased along with the smoke. We’ve had the opportunity to connect with a more individuals here on fire assignment and here is what we’ve learned or observed.
When there is an ambulance parked at the end of Moose Creek, it is because there is a crew involved in direct contact with the fire. Last night it appeared to be a Hot Shot crew. Haven’t received confirmation of black lining activity occurring or if it was successful. I do know they intend to use fire to fight fire, when the staffing, winds and other conditions line up. The person I spoke with explained the purpose of the camp for 130 people at Wurtz airstrip. This is a strike task force positioned to take on the Whale Butte fire up close and keep it from spreading to Center Mountain. They are putting in hand line and may use black lining and other techniques as well. In order to fight fire with fire they need to have the following teams and equipment in place, everything prepped on the line and cooperative weather.
On the ground, the strike teams includes:
2 Hot Shot Teams – 20 members each
2 Initial Attack Crews 20 members each
1 water tender.
Some of the crew remains on site during the night when they are conducting black lining or back firing. Currently, they are dozing in along an old road between the two mountains as a fire break. They’ve identified personnel drop points, helicopter drop points, water locations etc. They have completed the dozer line on the south side of the mountain and are working on the shaded fire break on the north side. It’s been reported to expect significant vehicle activity in the area where 1671 was previously bermed this weekend. Whether that is due to fire personnel or equipment crews clearing the fire break was unclear.
The fire maps show no containment on any of the fire boundary yet. The fire has backed down to Whale Creek riparian zone on the north and that seems to be holding it in check on that side for now. Most of the creep is on the SE side approaching 1672 and 1671. Everyone from the top down understands the importance stopping the fire movement on that side and that is where ground crew efforts are being concentrated apparently.
In other news, FS Rd 1685 to the west of private property on Moose Creek was bulldozed open this morning as the initial prep for putting in the fire line between Hay Creek and Whale Creek previously discussed. Structure protection for the 9 landowners closest to the fire appears to be complete and ready to go, county is feeling pretty good about the set ups and structure analysis completed for all properties in the fire risk area. Crews occasionally stop by to check the systems. In talking with structure protection folks, they really feel that properties to the east of ours (525 Moose Creek) are defendable with ground crews and water trucks as the state land and some forest service have been logged or thinned in the last 3-7 years. These lands form a protective buffer zone that drops the fire to the ground where it can be fought more easily. Properties west of 525 Moose Creek have been supplied with water systems that can be turned on and left running as crews may not be able to safely stay and defend those structures due to a variety of factors (ingress/egress, proximity to lands without recent fuel reduction, location in relation to fire activity, fire crew safety, etc.)
Will keep you posted as we are able.