Saturday, July 13, 2024

Fire District #3 begins work to protect Chumstick evacuation route

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LEAVENWORTH—Chelan County Fire District #3 (CCFD #3) has begun fuel reduction work along Chumstick Highway as part of its Chumstick Corridor Evacuation Route Enhancement project in partnership with the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition (CWSC).

Protecting the Chumstick is critical in preparing for a wildfire emergency, as the area's primary evacuation routes are limited to US-2 and Chumstick Highway. Additionally, US-2 is at risk of closure in Tumwater Canyon, making Chumstick Highway the only detour.

The work will focus on the most problematic areas directly adjacent to the road this spring, with a goal of gradually covering the entirety of the highway and beyond over multiple years. 

“In the fire service, regardless of what the emergency is, our number one priority is always preservation of life, and in the case of a wildfire, getting people evacuated is our first priority. Having a safe route of passage becomes very important, because when we have to protect people, it adds a lot on to us during the emergency. When we can just concentrate on homes and things like that, our stress level goes down,” said CCFD #3 Chief Kelly O’Brien.

The corridor faces several wildfire emergency challenges, including a high risk of fire, limited access to hydrants, and numerous side canyons with residents. Heavy tourism traffic also threatens to strain evacuation routes.

“These are just compounding reasons of why the Chumstick needs to be taken care of,” said Bob Keller of CWSC.

The first phase of the project, which is slated to be completed by the end of May, will be funded by a microgrant awarded to CWSC by Firewise of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The crew will concentrate on spots along the entire Chumstick with the heaviest vegetation on both sides of the highway first. They will clear away dead and downed trees and eliminate “ladder fuels” such as underbrush and trees smaller than eight inches in diameter at breast height to protect the canopy. 

“I think people will be happy with what these fuel reduction projects look like. We're not clear-cutting anything. We're just reducing fuels to a manageable amount in case there is a fire,” said Captain Mike Smith.

Throughout the summer, CCFD #3 will continue to send its full-time fuels reduction crew to work on the project area as time permits and until fire danger becomes too high. 

According to Chief O’Brien, drivers should expect to see trucks parked alongside the road with crews at work, but shouldn’t see many delays. Short traffic delays may occur if the crew needs to remove hazardous trees in danger of falling into the road.

Homeowners can help mitigate wildfire risk by utilizing CCFD #3’s free Home Assessment Program, which provides the expertise and custom work plan to increase defensible space and reduce wildfire risk. They can also participate in the free chipping service for residents of CCCFD #3, which is offered for two weeks in the spring and in the fall. 

Further questions about the project can be directed to CWSC at info@chumstickcoalition.org, or Fire District #3 at info@chelanfd3.org. 

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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