Our Northwest

Taylor Bridge Wildfire scars slowly fading

Friday, April 11, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

On Wednesday I visited the ignition site of the infamous, catastrophic 2012 Taylor Bridge Wildfire east of Cle Elum.
   That summer, sparks from a road reconstruction project ignited dry brush and trees, according to a Department of Natural Resources report. Bristol Bridge was the span being renovated, but news media dubbed it Taylor Bridge because it abuts the State Highway 10 intersection with Taylor Road.
   By any name, the bridge isn't spectacular to behold. It's really more of an overpass spanning a dry gulch (right).
   Winds fanned the flames, which quickly spread east alongside the Yakima River toward the base of Lookout Mountain (above). There the fire turned uphill, quickly engulfing pines and homes in the rural community.
   Before long the fire crested the mountain and sped eastward, wreaking havoc and eventually becoming a grass fire that sped toward Thorp and Ellensburg.
   Another tongue of flames followed the Yakima River Canyon, jumped over the river, and burned homes in the Sunlight Waters community just north of I-90 near the Elk Heights fruit stand.
   The August fire raged for weeks, smoldered until snowfall, and destroyed 61 homes plus hundreds of other structures. Altogether it burned 23,000 acres.
   We scouted the area this week to gain wildfire-prevention knowledge that we’ll soon share in an information campaign called Don’t Get Burned! May is the time for rural residents to get outside and prepare their property to resist wildfire.
   Two things in particular drew my attention on our visit. The wildfire ground scars are barely evident, since this is the second post-fire spring growing season. Kittitas County hills already are turning a lush green.
   I also noted that, even in the areas badly scorched by fire, green healthy pine trees stand alongside dead blackened ones. People tend to think that wildfires burn literally everything in their path. In reality, flames can leapfrog trees. Burning crowns send embers aloft that settle some distance away, leaving neighboring trees untouched.
   Ugly, wide swaths did not escape the inferno. But hope springs forth in the form of thousands of ponderosa pine saplings, planted last year by local youth in a Red Cross project called Operation Lorax.
   Watch for a wealth of Don’t Get Burned! information in the coming weeks, including pemco.com tips for how to protect your property from wildfire.

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