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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Past fires leave Chelan area optimistic about ‘05

Associated Press

CHELAN, Wash. – Lake Chelan Valley could escape the fire season this year because so much forest land around the lake has burned over the past 10 years that there isn’t enough fuel left for another catastrophic wildfire season.

“I don’t think we’ll be set up for another 30,000-acre or larger fire for the next 15 to 20 years,” said Marsh Haskins, fire manager for the Lake Chelan Ranger District.

“The areas around most of the campgrounds have been pretty well cleaned out by fire in recent years,” he said. “We may have some short-lived grass fires, but nothing too large.”

At least 150,000 acres around the lake have burned since 1994, when 135,000 acres were charred by the Tyee Fire.

“I sure hope that Marsh is correct,” said Dan Hodge, executive director of the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. “The fire season is one of those very unpredictable things for businesses, so there is a lot of concern about it every year.

“July and August are such an important part of the year for all of the businesses, and anything that disrupts it has a significant impact.”

Since 1994, the area has been blackened by the North 25 Mile, Rex Creek, Deer Point, Deer Mountain, Union Valley and last summer’s Pot Peak and Deep Harbor fires.

“Essentially what’s happened is all those fires have broken up the landscape so you don’t have continuous fuels anymore,” said Richy Harrod, a fire ecologist for the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests.

About 18,000 to 20,000 burnable acres – in patches in valleys north of the city of Chelan, the Slide Ridge area on the south shore, and farther up the lake near Holden and Stehekin – are left.

Fire could flare up just about anywhere with dry land and hot weather, Haskins said. But it won’t likely go very far.

“In the old burn areas like Rex Creek and Deer Point, a fire would be short-lived,” he said.

But the “low risk” benefits of wildfire don’t last long. Within 15 or 20 years, snags and debris will start to build up on the ground and young trees will be growing back in burned areas.

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