NPSTC Governing Board Member Highlights Importance of NPSTC Work When Fire Hits Home

NPSTC Governing Board Member Highlights Importance of NPSTC Work When Fire Hits Home

By John McIntosh, Forestry Conservation Communications Association (FCCA)

“NPSTC has been spot on focusing on the absolute need for hardening of radio sites, communications infrastructure and making sure that these systems are redundant and properly maintained.”

It was deeply moving to hear of the tragedy befalling Debbie Replogle of the NPSTC staff and her home in the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, Washington. It is one of many stories I have heard from friends and acquaintances here in Washington State as this fire event grips public attention and commands significant resources to attempt to control it. My wife and I just drove through this area two weeks ago and marveled at the scenery.

Having been an officer with the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Police (WDFW), I have worked in both Okanogan and Chelan Counties many times, now the venues of catastrophic wildland fires. It is one of the most scenic areas of Washington State and supports a large tourism and agricultural industries; both of which are severely impacted by these events. But is unfortunately also prone to catastrophic wildland fires.

From an operational and public safety perspective, WDFW Police staff in both counties have been mobilized to man road blocks and form strike teams to evacuate residents. There are many seasonal residents in the area who have never realized the risk of wildland fire.

The entire area operates on VHF high band with many repeater sites in the affected area. The power is out and I understand that many sites are on battery backup or generator power due to the wooden power line poles burning out. I spoke to the WDFW Regional Director for the area and he was mentioning that the WDFW Methow River Fish Hatchery was in danger of burning down but had been saved because of the fish planting tanker trucks were used in fire service. The hatchery is operating on backup power. I mention this to illustrate the scope of the disaster.

WDFW’s radio communications partner, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WADNR) (which in Washington is the state lands and forestry department) is maxed out and has taken over radio repeater systems used by WDFW to use for fire control. They are bringing in portable repeater systems for specific sub areas.

I had a bad feeling about this year’s fire season. The weather here in Eastern Washington has recently been extremely hot with strong winds out of the west up to 25-30 MPH in the afternoon. It is almost like a “sauna” wind and with a few lightning strikes that is all that it took. Fortunately the weather is cooling; and it dropped 25 degrees F over the last three days in my area. But more lighting is forecast for the next two days which could start fires in other areas unburned. I did not want to use the overused “perfect storm” metaphor, but it almost seems like it.

All these events have caused me to think of how spot on NPSTC has been in focusing on the absolute need for hardening of radio sites, communications infrastructure and making sure that these systems are redundant and properly maintained.

Please remember the residents of the areas, particularly those in the Methow River Valley, whose farms, ranches, homes and orchards have burned to the ground. And of course the wildland firefighters who are approaching exhaustion fighting these fires.