Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chiwaukum Creek Fire

As those of you who live in Washington know, the north-central part of the state is plagued by several large forest fires, which are grouped into two "complexes," the Carlton Complex in the eastern Methow Valley and the Mills Canyon Complex in the Leavenworth/Entiat area.  One portion of the Mills Canyon Complex is the Chiwaukum Creek Fire, which is burning to the west of Highway 2 between the Tumwater Canyon and Cole's Corner.

Northern Tumwater Canyon on Friday Night 
- note the red tail lights on Highway 2 in the center of the bottom-right quadrant for scale
(image from Icicle TV)

Believed to have been started by lightening in the beginning of this week, the Chiwaukum Creek Fire was described as "explosive" during the first few days, as it grew from roughly 600 acres in the first day to more than 6,000 acres by Thursday, closing Highway 2 between Cole's Corner and Leavenworth.  Fire fighters were initially concerned that the fire would cross Highway 2 south of Cole's Corner and threaten the town of Plain and the northern part of the Chumstick, and issued Level 3 warnings (immediate evacuation) for the Plain River Road area.  As of Friday, however, firefighting crews had established Highway 2 as a fire break, and have focused their efforts on containing the northern edge of the fire.  Though a public statement issued on Friday noted that fire crews were feeling more "confident" about the fire, it is still described as 0% contained, and has grown to roughly 8,300 acres, with high winds expected in the next few days. Air quality in Leavenworth and to the east has varied from "very poor" earlier in the week to "good" today, but the Icicle Canyon is reported as smoke-free and clear.

The Chiwaukum Creek Fire 
(image from

The following links contain the best information I've been able to find on the fire:

The National Incident Information System web site - Official updates from fire crews.

Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page - Up-to-the-minute updates on both fire complexes, as well as links to pages collecting donations for victims of the fires.

Icicle TV Facebook page - Local information about the fire, with video from an exclusive behind-the-gate tour of the Tumwater Canyon.

It's unclear at this point whether the Chiwaukum Creek Fire will have any impact on Leavenworth's climbing. The southernmost point of the fire is roughly 9 miles northwest of Leavenworth, and is reported to have stretched as far south as Swiftwater Picnic Area. With fire crews' heroic efforts obviously concerned primarily with protecting lives and property located to the north and west, and with prevailing winds toward the southeast, the fire can be expected to continue to spread to the south and east, potentially affecting other areas in the Tumwater Canyon. It seems unlikely that the fire will cross Highway 2 or jump Icicle Ridge and travel down Icicle Canyon, but anything's possible.

Concerns about impact to climbing, however, are entirely trivial in light of the danger to the more than 1,500 personnel putting their lives on the line to contain the Carlton and Mills Canyon Complexes, and the terrible devastation suffered in the towns of Pateros and Brewster to the north, where more than 100 homes have been lost.  Please consider making a donation of money or supplies to the fire victims through one of the links on the Chelan County Emergency Management page linked above.   

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