September 18, 2017
It only took one tree to ignite the Whitewater Fire near Mt. Jefferson. On July 23rd lightning-struck a tree that fell to the ground and a month later over 13,000 acres have burned inside and out of the Federally designated Wilderness area. It’s a costly venture to protect our forests, with nearly $12,000,000 spent on fires suppression since its inception.
Freres Timber, Inc. owns 1,400 acres within a mile of this fire. Strong east winds could cause devastating damage to our timber and the U.S. Forest Service has granted permission to remove “hazardous fuels” from our firebreak.
A collaborative effort was made to preserve Oregon’s tremendous resource from destruction. Freres personnel and our contractors cut a 75- to 100-foot firebreak along roads and property lines in an effort to assist firefighters containing the blaze.
Contractors Bob Ward and Cory Callsen have valiantly contributed as much as 32 consecutive hours on two separate occasions to combat this fire.
Cutting crews from Ziglinski and Derrick fell timber for nine hours every day, and Siegmund Excavation & Construction used their steep slope harvesting equipment and dozers to create fire lines. Freres road crew, Lulay Timber, and Sword Logging personnel offered additional dozers service and everyone worked in extreme heat and smoke.
Our days began at 2 a.m., with more than 100 log truckloads being shipped in three days, and the Freres family want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who generously put their time and energy into protecting our timberland during this time of need. There are too many heroes to recognize.
After reassessing the damage this fire, as well as previous ones, have caused, I contacted Congressman Schrader and Walden, and Senator Wyden to express our view that Oregon’s firefighting policies in statutory wilderness areas need to be changed. It is our belief that all means necessary should be allowed to fight fires in wilderness areas to curtail the size and cost of future wildfires.
The fire caused by the Whitewater lightning strike ignited four weeks before firefighters were called in to work it. With better policies in place, the fire could have been addressed well before it required the multimillion-dollar response it now requires.
Click on these links compiled by Oregon Forest Resources Institute for more information on this topic.