Notes from Windward: #61

Drought, No Doubt

This week's edition of The Goldendale Sentinel, our county's paper of record, led with a headline of:
"Fire season expected to be one of the worst -
DNR warns homeowners to prepare now."

Saravaw clearing away some burnables
Here at Windward, we don't have to worry about earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods, but what is a danger for us is fire.

We worry about fire.

One of my most indelible memories of Windward is from the September '94 fire. While we were out there working desperately to contain the fire on our lower 40 acres, a massive C-130 came overhead at 500 feet and dropped a load of fire-retardant. It was totally awesome.

The Sentinel's article presented some numbers which illustrate just how dry this winter has been. The city of Goldendale, our county seat, gets its water from the snowpack on the Simco mountains north of town. "When city crews checked the snow pack on March 12 there was only 2.8 feet of snow, compared with the normal 15 to 20 feet. Crews reported water content was down also."

The weight of 20 feet of snow will cause the snow on the bottom to pack down and become quite dense. In other words, while 3 feet of snow is one fifth as deep as 15 feet of snow, the shallower snowpack only contains about a tenth as much water.

Our 3,000 gallon summer tank
Last year was a dry winter, our second in a row, and almost half of the county was burned in range and forest fires, so folks are getting very concerned. The city of Goldendale is already putting water conservation policies in place, and rural folks are being strongly encouraged to clear up brush and combustibles around their homes.

Unseasonably dry weather stresses the trees, and the weak ones die. That increases the "fuel load," and the possibility that a fire will burn hot enough to kill the established trees instead of just rushing through consuming the underbrush.

Here at Windward, we take fire very seriously, and have already begun our spring burning season. While the ground is still damp, this is the time to work to clear the woods of combustibles so that when (it's not a question of "if," but only one of "when") fire threatens our area, we'll have reduced the combustibility of our woods.

Our 1,200 gallon winter tank
waiting to be installed
Last weekend half a dozen friends came up from Portland to help clear some dead trees, and Bill and Saravaw have been keeping the fires going through the week. It's heartening to see real progress, and while there's still a lot of forest to clean and protect, you attend to the most important areas first and do the best you can with the rest.

Another part of that is to maximize our water storage capacity we go into fire season. We have the main 3,000 gallon tank, and last year Bob1 got an additional 1,000 gallon tank online as part of the new water system.

Next month, when we tackle the task of interconnecting our two water systems, part of that project will involve installing and connecting a 1,200 gallon underground winter water tank. In order to prevent our main tank from freezing and bursting in the dead of winter, we drain it over Thanksgiving weekend each year, and then rely on the smaller, partially buried tank until we're past the danger of a really hard freeze.

That will give us more than 5,000 gallons of water on hand during the fire season, and while I'll always be wishing that we had more water, it's enough to make a rapid response effort effective.