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News / Clark County News

Jenny Creek Fire near La Center a lesson for Clark County; fast moving blazes a danger

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 2, 2023, 6:13am
2 Photos
Firefighter Michael Hickey works at the scene on Aug. 17 after a blaze destroyed a house and surrounding structures on the same property near La Center. The incident sparked a significant brush fire that prompted evacuation warnings. well into the north county community.
Firefighter Michael Hickey works at the scene on Aug. 17 after a blaze destroyed a house and surrounding structures on the same property near La Center. The incident sparked a significant brush fire that prompted evacuation warnings. well into the north county community. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Columbia River Gorge communities aren’t the only ones coming to terms with increasing fire danger in the wildland-urban interface.

Earlier this month in Clark County, the Jenny Creek Fire quickly spread north of La Center as crews hauled in hundreds of gallons of water, unable to access the relief in the rural forested area.

Though the fire only burned 32 acres and destroyed a few structures near its ignition site, Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue Chief John Nohr said it was noticeably fast.

“A fire doesn’t care what your jurisdictional boundary is,” he said. “It’s going where the wind takes it.”

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For Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area residents, each hot and dry season their community isn’t touched by fire seems lucky.
Battalion Chief Jason Leavitt, left, and Division Chief Ben Peeler take a moment to check in at the Jenny Creek Fire near La Center on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 17, 2023.Jenny Creek Fire near La Center a lesson for Clark County; fast moving blazes a danger
Columbia River Gorge communities aren’t the only ones coming to terms with increasing fire danger in the wildland-urban interface.
Wildfire mitigation begins at home; how to get prepared
Wildfire mitigation doesn’t begin when suppression crews battle flames racing through a community.

Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue has to act judiciously when handling its resources. Fire rescue crews will only be deployed on red flag days — those where weather is drier and warmer — due to short staffing and mindful spending.

These days may become more common in the future.

For Washington, fire season occurs in September and October, but blazes are appearing earlier in the year with a greater intensity, Nohr said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that fire potential remains high in the Pacific Northwest, with conditions forecast to worsen between the Cascade Mountains and coast, areas that are usually wet and not susceptible to fire.

Forest health experts say fire is becoming more prominent in these landscapes and is creating a “new normal.” In 2022, fire burned 178,900 acres across Washington, more than half of which were traditionally wet forests west of the Cascades, according to DNR.

Officials are already taking notice.

“People need to be aware that this is essentially the new norm in Clark County,” Ben Peeler, Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue division chief, told The Columbian shortly after the Jenny Creek Fire. “This is going to become more and more common with changes in the climate.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer