Nature, Heal Thyself
After unseasonably hot, dry weather, the Blue Creek fire ignited on July 20, 2015 at 12:30 in the afternoon. By August 3, the fire was 95% contained after charring over 6,000 acres and destroying one home and 11 scattered outbuildings. Nearly a year later participants in the Blue Mountain Land Trust's Learning on the Land series took a field trip to a nearby ridge to see for themselves the lasting effects of the fire on the vegetation.
In general, the landscape had healed remarkably well considering the duration and intensity of the wildfire. Even in this photo taken several miles up the road (not part of the Learning on the Land excursion), green undergrowth and live fir trees can be seen amidst charred timbers left from the fire.
Because of heavy rains the night before, the group was unable to drive up Klicker Mountain Road where the fire started, but instead carpooled to nearby Black Snake Ridge to get an overview of the area. Even this road, though navigable to this meeting point, required 4-wheel drive several miles further.
With a broad view of Klicker Mountain as a backdrop, four local authorities spoke about the nature of the fire, incident management during the fire, and post-fire regeneration along with an evaluation of the health of the area one year later. As can be seen by the clouds, those gathered were lucky that it wasn't raining, nor was it sunny and hot.
Much to everyone's surprise, there was much visible green vegetation as seen here on Klicker Mountain, an observation that was confirmed by facts provided by Eric Pfeifer, a Forester with the Umatilla National Forest Service. In short, the fire cleared out the underbrush and thinned stands of trees, and even though it burned hot, it was not hot enough to sterilize the soil. As a result, the forest and land is regenerating on its own.
Even several miles further up the road and closer to other parts of the fire, green undergrowth can be seen along with many live fir and pine trees that were spared by the fire. (Again, this was not part of the official Learning on the Land event, but our own "Value-Added Package" to see where Black Snake Ridge Road went.)
In the end, the general consensus by the authorities is that the Blue Creek Fire could have been a lot worse; but because of well co-ordinated fire management by Walla Walla Fire District 4, the Fire Management Office of the Umatilla National Forest, along with regional wildfire-fighting companies and Hot-Shot teams, the precious Mill Creek Watershed was spared as was the serious loss of property. If any fire can be good, this one was just that.