Norse Peak, Jolly Mountain fires haven’t stopped burning

The ridge line to the east of Crystal Mountain Resort is blackened from the Norse Peak fire on September 23, 2017
The ridge line to the east of Crystal Mountain Resort is blackened from the Norse Peak fire on September 23, 2017 phaley@thenewstribune.com

More than 3 1/2 months after they started, two fires that charred more than 90,000 acres of Central Washington’s forests are still burning. But authorities say colder temperatures and winter precipitation will be the key to extinguishing the blazes.

The Norse Peak Fire, burning 11 miles west of Cliffdell, and the Jolly Mountain Fire, burning 11 miles northwest of Cle Elum, started as a result of lightning during an Aug. 11 storm. They have since ravaged some 92,728 acres.

“These fires will be fully suppressed; however, difficult access and firefighter safety concerns will likely deter immediate direct action. The strategy is to prevent these fires from coming down out of the wilderness to State Route 410 and threatening the structures and improvements adjacent to it,” officials said in an Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest news release sent shortly after the fires began.

The Norse Peak Fire is now 90 percent contained but isn’t expected to reach 100 percent until 2018. As of Thursday, authorities didn’t have a certain expected containment date.

Further north, the Jolly Mountain Fire, while still burning, has finally reached 100 percent containment. Officials plan to meet Monday to determine when they can consider the fire “controlled” and when to begin to reopen parts of the forest that have been closed through the fire’s duration.

More than a combined 1,000 personnel; numerous bulldozers, fire engines and helicopters; and the National Guard were assigned to battle the fires at their peak.

The fires caused road closures, including State Route 410; the closure of trails, including part of the Pacific Crest Trail; and threatened thousands of homes.

Complete numbers have not been released about the number of homes threatened, the tally of firefighters who responded to the fires or other information.

According to a report about the Norse Peak’s burned area, authorities suggest storm-proofing trails to reduce the potential of damage to nearby watersheds and fisheries in addition to closing some portions of the trails until they’re stabilized. They also recommend surveying for noxious weeds that may begin to invade the forest and surveying roads after storms to make sure they are still draining down the proper channels.