Smoke in the distance. In the Bend, Oregon area this happens rather regularly. When that happens while we are visiting we like to drive up to a little cinder cone south of town because it has such a fantastic view, probably a couple of hundred miles.
This time when we got to the top, we saw a US Forest Service fire truck and several firefighters. They weren’t in fire gear, just wearing blue uniforms. Ironically, when we were here eight years previously, there was also a thunder and lightening storm and when it was over we went to this same cinder cone and there were firefighters on lookout then as well!
We stepped out of the truck to take pictures. The fire was an impressive sight from up there. It was in the “lava island” at Lava Lands Visitor Center (see the article posted March 24). We could see the smoke actually billowing up. We went up to talk to the fire crew, and one of them started explaining everything to us – which fire that was, why they were letting it burn, that there was significant lightening expected that day, that they had just gotten back from fighting the fire at Warm Springs. Anything we asked he answered and more.
We somehow started discussing timber management and the differences in how timber grows on the coast and how it grows here. He told us that the trees are supposed to be close there but here they are naturally spaced about 40 feet apart. He said low underbrush naturally grows here and when a fire starts it burns just that lower part and doesn’t reach the canopy so the trees survive. He explained to us that past poor management over-planted the trees so now they are closer together. The firefighters are trying to play catch-up by thinning some trees but this is also a controversial practice politically.
He also explained that the practice of NOT putting out fires has been detrimental as it has allowed low undergrowth to get taller, and when it catches fire now it can reach the canopy and kill the trees as well. He believed he knows proper management techniques that would make the forests healthier as well as cost MUCH less and save taxpayer money, but that, again, politics interferes.
While he was explaining all this, he was also kind enough to open one of the equipment doors on the fire truck and took out a whiteboard marker and illustrated the tree and undergrowth for us. It was really quite educational!
Josh made himself at home while we were being “educated”. He talked to the other crew members, and they allowed him to climb on fire truck to take pictures from that vantage point.
Just before we left a state police pickup pulled up just to check on the crew and find out what they were seeing. He also told them that that a woman he talked to was a little panicked when she saw the smoke because she thought a volcano was going off!
We wondered how long that crew stayed up on that cinder cone watching for fires. We really appreciated their willingness to welcome us and take their time to educate us – and we were especially grateful for the job they do to protect beautiful Central Oregon.