The city of White Salmon is planning to begin an ambitious three-year effort to reduce the danger of wildfires, particularly in the bluff areas.
With a unanimous vote on April 21, the White Salmon City Council approved a $25,000 contract with White Salmon's James Hulbert, head of James Hulbert Planning Consultants in White Salmon, to lead phase one of the project. Hulbert will develop a fuel hazard reduction project geared to reduce fire danger in the most fire-prone areas of Bingen and White Salmon.
"We're a community with a lot of vegetation and fuels in some areas, particularly on the bluff," Hulbert said. "We have strong winds and drought conditions. We'll look carefully at the bluff situation, but not just the bluff. There is a perimeter we want to assess to reduce the risk of fire."
The four-phase, $235,000 project is expected to last through the end of 2006.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners provided a grant to cover the initial $25,000 for planning. Hulbert said the planning phase will take approximately six months.
"For decades, residents of White Salmon, Bingen, and surrounding areas have shared a deep fear of a wildfire coming from this bluff area ... there are more than 250 homes along the top of the bluff or within one-eighth mile of it," read an excerpt from the project summary, prepared by White Salmon Public Works Director Wil Keyser. "The goal of the project is to prevent, or suppress, wildfires before they spread up the steep slope between SR 14 and the top of the bluff. Once a wildland fire gets a good start at the base of the bluff, it will likely get to the top ... removing hazardous fuels at the base of the bluff will help prevent human-caused fires, and fires that do start will burn slower with lower flame lengths, providing a better opportunity for quick suppression."
"We can't stop all the fires from starting, but we can keep it from being a big problem, and save heartaches in the future," Hulbert said.
White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones expressed strong support for the program.
"I think there are huge benefits, especially with the fire risks we've had," Jones said. "The threat is that fire could go from the bluff clear up to Strawberry Mountain. That's a real concern. This is a good project."
The four phases of the project include:
Phase One (2004): Planning and technical assistance. Cooperating agencies and governments will join with affected land owners to assess fuel conditions and develop a strategy and action plan to reduce the risk of wildfire occurrence and to improve the ability of firefighting units to suppress fires. Cost: $25,000.
Phase Two (2004): Reduction of hazardous fuels along SR 14 from an area just west of downtown Bingen to the beginning of Dock Grade Road, a distance of one mile. Also, Dock Grade Road between SR 14 and the city of White Salmon (0.7 miles) will be treated.
This work is expected to begin by Aug. 1. Cost: $85,000.
Phase Three (2005): Treatment along SR 14 from Dock Grade Road to the mouth of the White Salmon River (1.3 miles). Cost: $50,000.
Phase Four (2005): Treatment along the route connecting SR 14 to SR 141 at the top of the bluff area (1.5 miles). Cost: $65,000.
Specifically, brush and small trees within a distance of 25-100 feet from certain roads would be cut. The material would be chipped and left on site to provide mulch that would impede vegetative growth and provide a more fire-resistant medium.
The work would result in hiring as many as eight temporary employees, and would provide one or two full-time jobs for a period of three years.
Jones said the planning phase is geared to bringing in federal grant money.
"Once we have a plan in place, we qualify for federal funding to implement the plan," Jones explained.
Project partners include the cities of White Salmon and Bingen, Klickitat County, Washington Department of Transportation, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Underwood Soil Conservation District, Northwestern Service Academy, Washington State Extension Service, and local landowners.
"We'll make the process open to the public, and anyone who wants to be involved, we encourage them to do that," Hulbert said.